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Québec's Baie-Comeau

Canada Bans Cruise Ships Through Oct.

By Anne Kalosh.

Canada extended its ban of most cruise ships through October. This effectively kills the Alaska, Canada/New England, Great Lakes and Canadian Arctic cruise seasons for most operators.

canada cruise ban equals no Northwest Passage cruises

Canadian Coast Guard ship in the Northwest Passage will have no cruise ships to watch over. * Photo: Anne Kalosh

Applies to ships carrying more than 100 people

Only the smallest vessels are allowed, those with overnight accommodations for up to 100 people.

The decision had been expected given that COVID-19 is still not under control, especially in the neighboring United States.

“Large cruise ships will not be allowed in Canadian waters until at least Oct. 31,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced during a daily briefing. “This decision extends the one we made in March, which was taken to protect our coastal communities. COVID-19 is still a very serious threat.”

The new regulation is stricter than the March ban, which had applied to ships carrying more than 500 people, including crew.

Canada ban cruise ships to places like Montreal

CanadaNew-England cruises known for their fall foliage are curtailed. Here Montréal. * Photo: Cruise the Saint Lawrence

RELATED: Small Ship Lines Likely the First to Resume Operations.  by Anne Kalosh.

Expedition operators

Also, passenger vessels with the capacity to carry more than 12 people continue to be prohibited from entering Arctic coastal waters. including Nunatsiavut, Nunavik and the Labrador Coast, until Oct. 31.

This means no Northwest Passage expeditions or Canadian High Arctic adventures that are often paired with Greenland and Iceland.

polar bears in the High Arctic

No expedition ships will be taking travelers to see polar bears in the Canadian Arctic this summer. * Photo: Anne Kalosh

canada cruise ban means no northwest passage cruises

No Northwest Passage cruises this year. * Photo: Anne Kalosh

Victory Cruise Lines

Coastal operator Victory Cruise Lines, which had earlier decided to field just one vessel instead of two on the Great Lakes this year, scrapped the program altogether shortly before Canada’s notice because there had been too much uncertainty.

John Waggoner, founder and CEO of Victory’s parent, American Queen Steamboat Co., called it “a tragedy for us because the Great Lakes were so well-received, with such positive reviews.”

Canada bans cruise ships

Victory Cruise Lines will not be able to sail the Great Lakes this year because of Canada’s cruise ship ban. * Photo: Victory Cruise Lines

Impact on ports

Many ports will suffer economic losses without cruise ships. For example, the nine ports in the Cruise the Saint Lawrence association — Montréal, Trois-Rivières, Québec, Saguenay, Baie-Comeau, Sept-Îles, Havre Saint-Pierre, Gaspé and Îles de la Madeleine — said the overall economic contribution of the 2020 season would have been $1 billion. This includes direct, indirect and induced impact, as well as 7,000 direct and indirect jobs.

The region had been looking at a record season.

Québec's Baie-Comeau

Québec’s Baie-Comeau will not have any cruise visitors in 2020. * Photo: Cruise the Saint Lawrence

U.S. ports suffer, too

Ports in Alaska and New England will suffer, too. Due to cabotage regulations, non-U.S. flag ships sailing round-trip from the United States need to stop at a foreign port. Without being able to call in Canada, those vessels won’t be able to operate Alaska and Canada/New England itineraries.

However, one ray of hope for small-ship fans: U.S.-flag operators like Alaskan Dream Cruises, American Cruise Lines, Blount Small Ship Adventures and UnCruise Adventures don’t need to touch a foreign port, so they could still sail in Alaska and New England, provided states and communities allow it.

Safari Endeavour in Frederick Sound AK

Small ships like Safari Endeavour operated by UnCruise can still operate all Alaska sailings, as there’s no need to stop in Canada and they are not subject to the U.S. no-sail order. * Photo: UnCruise

Also, their ships are exempt from the United States’ current COVID-19-related no-sail order because they carry fewer than 250 people (passengers and crew) each.

RELATED: Alaska Adventures with UnCruise.  by Judi Cohen.

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AQSC will return to service soon

First to Resume Cruise Operations.

by Anne Kalosh.

With parts of the United States beginning to open and small passenger ships exempt from the COVID-19 no-sail order, it’s possible U.S.-flag lines will be cruising this summer.

American Cruise Lines hopes it could be the first to resume cruise operations. The aim is to restart service initially on three ships: American Song on the Columbia and Snake rivers, American Harmony on the Lower Mississippi and American Constellation in Alaska.

American Queen Steamboat Co has also just announced they plan to return the American Empress to service on July 6 in the Pacific Northwest.
June 20 from Portland

The plan is for American Song to embark June 20 in Portland, Oregon, on a Columbia and Snake rivers itinerary to Clarkston, Washington. American Harmony would sail June 28 from Memphis, bound for New Orleans. American Constellation would follow in June/July in Alaska.

This plan seems different from the stream of continuously changing cruise line announcements about when operations are “scheduled” and is perhaps a more credible possibility given American’s small vessels and its close relationships with local communities and states.

“We feel our ships are perfectly designed to be one of the first to return to service,” said Paul Taiclet, vice president of hotel operations, American Cruise Lines. He stressed this is a collaboration with ports and communities to “make sure they’re comfortable with what we’re doing.”

Resume Cruise Operations

American Song is targeted to begin sailing from Portland, Oregon, on June 20. * Photo: American Cruise Lines

“We’re working on a safe, comprehensive plan to put ships back into service that will satisfy the communities and keep guests safe and crew safe,” he said.

Customers want to travel

According to Taiclet, American has gotten a “very favorable response” from customers booked on these sailings, along with people on canceled cruises who are eager to travel.

“Our guests like the idea of staying within the United States and some live within driving distance of the ports,” he said.

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Ships carrying under 250 souls not part of no-sail order

Besides American, lines like American Queen Steamboat Co., Alaskan Dream Cruises, Blount Small Ship Adventures, Lindblad Expeditions, UnCruise Adventures and others field ships carrying fewer than the 250-person threshold in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s no-sail order.

As the CDC stated in its April 15 rule:

“Based on substantial epidemiological evidence related to congregate settings and mass gatherings, this order suspends operation of vessels with the capacity to carry 250 individuals or more. Evidence shows that settings as small as nursing homes or movie theaters can proliferate the spread of a communicable disease.

“As the numbers of passengers and crew on board a ship increases, certain recommended mitigation efforts such as social distancing become more difficult to implement. In light of the demonstrated rapid spread of this communicable disease in current cruise ship settings, application of this order to vessels carrying 250 or more individuals is a prudent and warranted public health measure.”

But many factors come into play in order to resume cruise operations

Whether these small ships can resume sailing, however, is up to state health authorities, ports and local communities. Do state health officials deem conditions are safe to allow travel and do governors agree? Would passengers from other states and regions be allowed? Will ports open to these ships? Will communities want these visitors?

Taiclet stressed American will operate only if states want that, too.

“The most important thing is that we do this safely for the guests, the ports and the crew,” he said.

American’s initial three itineraries involve Tennessee, Mississippi and Louisiana; Oregon and Washington; and Alaska. Depending how the first cruises go and the timeline for opening other parts of the country, American hopes additional ships could resume in July with most of its fleet sailing in August.

Restoring confidence in ship travel

But will people feel it’s safe to travel by ship? Will crew want to return to work?

Lines like American, UnCruise Adventures and others say their loyal customers in particular want to sail and, according to Taiclet, his company’s crew are “eager” and “excited” to get back to their jobs.

Still, as an UnCruise Adventures spokeswoman pointed out: The travel industry as a whole, and particularly cruise operators due to the negative impressions of the pandemic, will need to assure people it is safe to travel.

Small-ship lines are betting people will feel more comfortable on vessels with less crowding, on coastal or inland itineraries that don’t take them far away with the potential of being stuck at sea or in a remote foreign port should a breakout occur.

Anyway, for Americans wishing to roam in the coming months, domestic destinations may be the only ticket available.

“We also have close relationships with the small communities we visit, and we don’t want to go anywhere that would cause uncertainty,” the UnCruise spokeswoman continued. “We are working with local and state municipalities to affirm details and are looking at mid-July to resume operations.”

Uncruise plants to Resume Cruise Operations

Safari Endeavour in Frederick Sound AK. * Photo: UnCruise Adventures

Detailed new health protocols

The fact that small-ship operators are publicly detailing their enhanced health protocols when many big-ship lines aren’t saying much for now suggests these domestic U.S. operators expect a quicker return to service.

All are talking about pre-screening of passengers and crew for health conditions, added screening at embarkation, changes to allow social distancing on board, heightened cleaning and sanitation and special procedures for port visits/shore excursions.

Occupancy reduced to 75 percent

At American Cruise Lines, ship occupancy will be reduced to 75 percent initially to ensure social distancing, and Taiclet said there is plenty of public space, along with private stateroom verandas, on the three ships that would begin first.

American Song would not carry more than 180 passengers, American Harmony would be capped at 190 and American Constellation at 175. This makes 450 square feet of space per guest.

ACL plans to Resume Cruise Operations

American Cruise Lines will initially limit occupancy to 75 percent. Here, American Harmony, which sails the Mississippi. * Photo: American Cruise Lines

American also teamed with a seasoned healthcare provider, Vikand Solutions, to manage medical operations, support shipboard virus prevention, screen/test guests and crew before they embark and collaborate with ports and shoreside healthcare facilities.

On the ships, heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems are independent for each stateroom and public space, so air is not recirculated in different areas.

Restaurant capacity will be reduced, and there will be no buffet service. In-stateroom dining can be arranged. Personal protective equipment will be provided on the ship and for guests at each destination, where recommended. Certain shipboard staff will be required to wear PPE.

Shore excursion motor coach capacity will be held to 50 percent. American charters its coaches for exclusive use and they follow the ship. The vehicles will be sanitized before every boarding. The line includes tours on the Lower Mississippi and in the Pacific Northwest so participation is high, ensuring a more controlled environment.

Adding a medical facility and nurse to each ship

Vikand Solutions will provide each vessel a nurse, supported by a shoreside doctor and other medical professionals, and take care of health situations, assessment and an outbreak plan. COVID-19 testing will be available on board, with protocols to be determined as the science evolves. Rooms on each ship will be set aside for isolation, if needed.

Before COVID-19, American did not have medical centers or nurses. As a domestic, inland operator, it was not required to do so. The company is now taking these extra proactive steps to ensure a higher level of safety.

Additional training for crew will cover the new operating protocols and heightened sanitation practices. PPE will be provided for positions like housekeeping and galley staff.

American Queen Steamboat Co.

AQSC‘s partner is Ochsner Health, a system that serves Louisiana, Mississippi and the Gulf South. (The company plans to announce a healthcare partner for its Pacific Northwest itineraries on American Empress in the coming weeks.)

AQSC has partnered with Ochsner Health.

AQSC has partnered with Ochsner Health.

Ochsner Health will conduct assessments of American Queen, American Duchess and American Countess and work with AQSC to implement disease prevention and mitigation strategies across the fleet. Also, Ochsner will reassess the AQSC vessels on a monthly basis and update recommendations as needed based on scientific data and CDC recommendations.

AQSC wants to Resume Cruise Operations

AQSC plans new dining room procedures to enhance safety. Here, American Duchess. * Photo: American Queen Steamboat Co.

Virtual access to experts

A virtual clinic, powered by TytoCare, will allow employees and passengers access to shoreside healthcare professionals, including infectious disease experts.

In addition, each vessel will carry a certified medical representative to assist with urgent medical care, implement quarantine procedures and coordinate shoreside medical assistance. In an emergency, AQSC and affiliate Victory Cruise Lines have the ability to quickly transfer anyone to facilities ashore by coordinating pick-up at municipal landings and docking facilities.

Ochsner Health personnel will oversee the pre-boarding screening process and assessments for all itineraries embarking in New Orleans, and AQSC plans to identify healthcare partners for its other ports.

Elevated safety protocols include pre-cruise screenings, crew screenings, updated boarding processes, increased sanitation measures and systems like MXP Protect, which incorporates the use of thermal imaging.

AQSC is planning on Resuming Cruise Operations

Embarkation on AQSC vessels like American Queen will include a temperature check with thermal cameras. * Photo: American Queen Steamboat Co.

Sister brand Victory Cruise Lines

Victory Cruise Lines, operated by AQSC, will implement similar health and safety protocols when it resumes its operations on the Great Lakes and Canadian Maritimes in 2021 (Victory just canceled its 2020 season.) Note, Victory’s two coastal ships are flagged to the Bahamas, not the U.S.

Prior to embarkation, all passengers and crew will have to complete a health questionnaire and a medical travel screening survey. At the pre-cruise hotel, medical personnel will screen each guest and conduct a temperature check. Boarding will be denied to anyone deemed to pose a health risk.

There’s a 24-hour window between the pre-cruise hotel stay and vessel embarkation.

Once people are cleared during the pre-cruise process, embarkation will be conducted via one controlled access point with thermal cameras supplementing the manual temperature checks of the pre-cruise screening.

An on-board medical representative will conduct the gangway screening, complete the health and safety survey and provide reports to the master and hotel director.

Monitoring during the cruise

Throughout AQSC voyages, trained staff will maintain protocols and observe passengers and crew for symptoms. Anyone who has an elevated temperature, shows signs or symptoms of illness or who vessel management determine needs further assessment will be sent directly to a local medical partner for evaluation and testing. Anyone testing positive for a contagious condition won’t be allowed to rejoin the vessel.

Using MXP Protect, AQSC will be able to monitor critical areas on board with thermal scanning. All passengers and crew will be monitored by passive thermal imaging when returning to the vessel in addition to random manual screening.

Public room/stateroom cleaning

And there’s more, much more that AQSC is doing.

Increased sanitation of all contact surfaces such as handrails, tables, chairs, desks, work surfaces, door handles, telephones and elevator controls — both front and back of house — will be conducted hourly with an all-chlorine solution.

All public and crew spaces will be fogged twice daily and multi-purpose disinfecting wipes will be made available in staterooms.

Cabin staff will clean and sanitize all surfaces of the room and use an EPA-approved disinfectant spray, as well as Protexus Electrostatic Sprayers to fog staterooms daily.

AQSC will fog cabins daily

AQSC’s heightened sanitation measures will include fogging staterooms daily. Here, an American Duchess suite. * Photo: American Queen Steamboat Co.

Self-service buffets are suspended, and waiters will be stationed at buffets to serve food. Crew will minimize guest touch points by manually entering cabin numbers rather than using guest swipe cards and by replacing communal items such as salt/pepper pots, sugar bowls and butter bowls with single-serve packets.

Tables, chairs and countertops will be sanitized on the hour or when vacated by the guest, and menus will be printed on single-use paper and discarded after each use. All table items will be removed each time a table is vacated. All crockery, glassware and cutlery will be washed even if unused. Self-service areas are suspended in the bars, too, and individual bowls of bar snacks will be available on request.

Deck rails, swimming pools, the gangway and other external hard points will be sanitized at least every hour when in use, with the gangway sanitation occurring every half-hour when in use.

Motor coaches will be reduced to a maximum 52 percent capacity. Bus seats, windows and handrails will be sanitized with an EPA-recommended solution daily before boarding and every hour when in use. Liquid hand sanitizer dispensers will be available at the door. All shore excursions will be conducted within the guidelines of the local municipalities visited.

Alaska will be very different this season

If small-ship lines do resume sailing in the coming months, they may have some places to themselves, given many big-ship cancellations in regions like Alaska and Canada/New England.

“Sailing in Alaska this season will be more pristine than ever, and not likely duplicated anytime soon,” according to Capt. Dan Blanchard, CEO of UnCruise Adventures.

Capt. Dan Blanchard with Wilderness Adventurer in Alaska. * Photo: UnCruise Adventures

He added that Alaska “has always had my heart. I’ve sailed there since I was a boy and I’m excited to get back on board. With anything we do, we will respect local community requests and in part, our sailings are determined by the market.”

RELATED: Alaska Adventures with UnCruise.  by Judi Cohen

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RELATED: A QuirkyCruise.com Q&A with UnCruise CEO Dan Blanchard about the new seven-member US Small-Boat Operators Coalition.

 

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Viking Mississippi River Debut

Viking Mississippi River Debut for 2022

by Anne Kalosh.

It has been a long time coming but river-cruise giant Viking plans to begin plying the Mississippi in August 2022. The line is going big and modern with a 386-passenger, five-deck vessel it’s building in Louisiana. [The passenger count is above QuirkyCruise’s 300 cut-off,  but we make exceptions sometimes as we want to report on this!]

Named Viking Mississippi, the vessel is inspired by Viking’s existing river and ocean ships and will feature clean Scandinavian design along with public spaces that are familiar to brand loyalists but reimagined for the Mississippi.

And “no paddlewheels — real or fake,” Viking Chairman Torstein Hagen said.

Viking Mississippi River Debut

Viking Mississippi — five decks high and modern design with no paddlewheel. * Rendering: Viking

Viking itineraries cover Western and Eastern Europe, Russia, Asia and Egypt. Yet Hagen said loyalists continue to list the Mississippi as “the river they most want to sail with us.” It is “closer to home for many of our guests,” he continued, “and no other waterway has played such an important role in America’s history, commerce and culture.”

Lower & Upper Mississippi

Viking Mississippi will sail the Lower and Upper Mississippi, between New Orleans and St. Paul, Minnesota. Ports currently scheduled span seven states: Louisiana (besides New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Darrow and St. Francisville), Mississippi (Natchez and Vicksburg), Tennessee (Memphis), Missouri (Hannibal, St. Louis), Iowa (Burlington, Dubuque and Davenport), Wisconsin (La Crosse and Red Wing) and Minnesota (St. Paul).

The core itineraries are eight days and include “America’s Heartland,” cruising between St. Louis and St. Paul. This Upper Mississippi voyage sails past farms nestled in rolling terrain and steep bluffs rising from tributaries dotted with wooded islands, and traverses locks and dams. Travelers will hear stories about westward migration, Lewis and Clark, Mark Twain, John Deere, and the Amish and Norwegian settlements. They’ll experience regional music like polka and Norwegian folk and taste local beer, produce and Wisconsin cheese.

Exploring the Lower Mississippi, “Heart of the Delta,” between New Orleans and Memphis, delves into areas where the French and Acadians settled, the Civil Rights movement and the music of the South — jazz, blues and gospel. Travelers will get to dine on Cajun and creole dishes and Memphis dry-style barbecue, rubbed with salt and spices.

“Southern Celebration,” cruising New Orleans-Vicksburg-New Orleans, also explores the Lower Mississippi, affording visits to historic homes in Louisiana and Mississippi. There will be opportunities to learn about Civil War history and tour sites like Vicksburg National Military Park. As well, travelers can discover the distinct flavors of New Orleans and Baton Rouge.

The 15-day “America’s Great River” spans nearly the full length of the Mississippi, between New Orleans and St. Paul. Viking Mississippi will travel from the Gulf of Mexico to the northernmost reaches of the U.S. This journey will present a variety of scenery, foliage and wildlife. Travelers can tour plantation houses in Natchez, retrace the steps of Civil Rights leaders in Memphis, ascend the Gateway Arch in St. Louis and visit “The Norwegian Valley” in La Crosse.

Big Views & Alfresco Dining

Viking Mississippi will sport expansive windows and a 360-degree promenade close to the water on Deck 1. A two-story Explorers’ Lounge is situated high up and facing forward adjacent to The Bow, an outdoor seating area with big river views.

Viking Mississippi River Boat's Explorer Lounge

The Viking Mississippi’s Explorer’s Lounge on Deck 1. * Rendering: Viking

An Aquavit Terrace on the top deck, ideal for American-style barbecues, and an indoor-outdoor River Cafe will provide ample alfresco dining opportunities. Besides American classics, the River Cafe will serve Norwegian specialties, recalling the Mamsen’s deli venues on Viking’s ocean ships.

The Viking Mississippi River Cafe

The Viking Mississippi River Cafe. * Rendering: Viking

A glass-backed pool will be situated aft on the Sun Terrace.

The Living Room on Deck 1 is designed for socializing, relaxing and entertainment, with a quiet corner housing a library.

Viking on the Mississippi

The Viking Mississippi Living Room. * Rendering: Viking

The Restaurant, the main dining venue, is also situated on Deck 1, and will serve daily-changing menus of regional dishes and always-available classics prepared with fresh, local ingredients.

Viking Mississippi's main restaurant

The main restaurant aboard the Viking Mississippi. * Rendering: Viking

Verandas or French Balconies

With 193 all-outside staterooms, Viking Mississippi has seven accommodations categories ranging from 268 square feet to 1,024 square feet. All have a private veranda or French balcony, king-size bed with luxury linens, large flat-screen interactive TV, mini-bar, large glass-enclosed shower, heated bathroom floor and 24-hour room service.

Viking Mississippi's Deluxe Veranda cabin

The Viking Mississippi’s Deluxe Veranda Stateroom. * Rendering: Viking

The top-of-the-line Viking Suites have two rooms and a full-size veranda off the spacious sitting room. Travelers in Penthouse Junior Suites (400 square feet) and Terrace Suites (425 square feet) get early room access, expanded double-sink bathroom, mini-bar with alcoholic beverages, soft drinks, water and snacks replenished daily, welcome champagne and laundry, pressing and shoeshine services. Those in Explorer Suites (657 square feet to 1,024 square feet) additionally have a wraparound veranda and included Silver Spirits Beverage Package.

Viking Mississippi Penthouse Terrace Suite

The Viking Mississippi’s Penthouse Terrace Suite. * Rendering: Viking

Viking Mississippi's Forward Explorer's Suite aboard Viking Mississippi

Viking Mississippi’s Forward Explorer’s Suite Living Room on Deck 3. * Rendering: Viking

Enrichment and ‘Privileged Access’

Viking will extend its noted on-board enrichment program to the U.S. heartland. Destination performances are to showcase regional music, and guest lecturers will expand on art, architecture, history, culture and the natural world. “Privileged Access Local Life and Working World” experiences will open doors to places otherwise difficult to visit.

Travelers can take a guided kayaking trip in the Louisiana bayou, visit a working farm near the Quad Cities or immerse themselves in Cajun culture during a Privileged Access excursion to the Rural Life Museum of Louisiana State University.

RELATED: Viking to Offer “Privileged Access” Excursions to Egypt River Cruises. 

Inclusive Pricing

Cruise fares include one shore excursion in each port of call, alternative dining, all port charges and government taxes, beer and wine with lunch and dinner, self-service launderettes, 24-hour room service and Wi-Fi.

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QuirkyCruise Review QuirkyCruise Review of American Cruise Lines

An American-flag coastal and inland river company manned by an all-American crew, the line operates ten vessels (passenger capacities 100-185) offering a high level of comfort while undertaking a varied menu of itineraries along the U.S. East Coast from Florida to New England, the Mississippi River system, Columbia and Snake rivers in the Pacific Northwest, and North to Alaska and cruises within S.E. Alaska.

American Cruise Lines has built all its vessels (except the acquired QUEEN OF THE WEST) in its Chesapeake Bay yard, hence there are many similarities between ships. Sister brand, Pearl Seas Cruises, operates the Pearl Mist on the Great Lakes, Eastern Canada & USA East Coast itineraries.

The fastest growing cruise line under the U.S Flag also offers the largest cabins, many with balconies, and dedicated single cabins and operates along the Mississippi River system, U.S. East Coast, Pacific Northwest and Alaska.

RELATED: Click here for a QuirkyCruise feature article about American Cruise Lines.

Queen of the West. * Photo: American Cruise Lines

Ships, Years Delivered & Passengers

AMERICAN SPIRIT (2005); AMERICAN STAR (2007); INDEPENDENCE (2010); QUEEN OF THE MISSISSIPPI (2012); AMERICAN EAGLE (2015); AMERICA; and acquired ship QUEEN OF THE WEST (1994). Note: QUEEN OF THE MISSISSIPPI became  AMERICAN PRIDE and repositioned to the Pacific Northwest in spring 2016.

Note: A new and larger coastal ship, AMERICAN CONSTELLATION, arrived in spring May 2017 with 350-square-foot cabins for 175 passengers and Zodiacs and kayaks for exploring off the ship  in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. A sister, AMERICAN CONSTITUTION (175p) followed in 2018 to cruise the U.S. East Coast.

Also in 2018, a new style of riverboat appeared, more akin to the European models, rather than Mississippi sternwheelers. Four decks high, they will take less than 200 passengers who will occupy roomy cabins with hotel-size baths and larger and deeper balconies. A bow ramp will give access to more landings and obviate the need to build expensive docking facilities.

This new fleet is being built at the company-owned Chesapeake Shipbuilding. AMERICAN SONG (184 passengers) went into service in the second half of 2018, AMERICAN HARMONY (190 passengers) followed in August 2019, and sister AMERICAN JAZZ in summer 2020. These last two riverboats have six decks, and the JAZZ features wraparound balconies with the Grand Suites.

American Cruise Lines Passenger Profile

Mostly Americans, 55 and up, and a high rate of repeaters. Some British, mostly in groups, and a few Australians.

VLUU L100, M100 / Samsung L100, M100 Queen of the Mississippi. * Photo: American Cruise Lines

American Pride. * Photo: American Cruise Lines

Passenger Decks

4 – 6. Elevators connect all decks, except not highest deck on American Constellation/Constitution

Ships Built Year Built Passengers Passenger Decks Cabins With Verandahs Singles
America 2016 185 5 99 96 14
American Constellation 2017 175 6 89 78 5
American Constitution 2018 175 6  90  78  6
American Harmony 2019 190 6 98 98 9
American Jazz 2020 196 6 99 99 8
American Song 2018 184 5 94 94 7
American Star 2007 100 4 47 27 2
American Spirit 2005 100 4 47 26 2
Independence 2010 100 4 51 40 6
American Pride 2012 150 5 78 66 12
Queen of the Mississippi 2015 149 5 78 72 19
Queen of the West 1994 100 4 70 41 13

 

American Star. * Photo: Ted Scull

American Star. * Photo: Ted Scull

Price

$$$  Super Pricey

What’s Included

Beer and wine at lunch & dinner, and a nightly pre-dinner cocktail hour with hors d’oeuvres; Internet; shore excursions are an extra charge, except in Alaska. Many itineraries will begin with an included hotel stay; check the specific itinerary.

American Cruise Lines Itineraries

Many cruises last 7 nights/8 days and some up to 14 nights/15 days.

  • East Coast: 8 days up the Hudson River Valley from New York in the fall foliage season; 11 days Chesapeake Bay, Eastern & Western Shores between Baltimore and Norfolk; 8 days Historic South & Islands between Charleston and Jacksonville; 8 days Great Florida Rivers from Jacksonville/Amelia Island; 11 days Grand New England from Boston as far south as Newport RI and north to Bar Harbor, ME. 8 days New England Islands from Providence, RI; and 8 days Maine Coast from Portland, ME. One-way East Coast itineraries: 8 days Baltimore and Charleston, SC; 8 days Charleston, SC and Jacksonville; and the granddaddy of them all 15 days Baltimore and Jacksonville.
Jared Coffin House, named after a prominent Nantucket ship owner was built in 1845. * Photo: Ted Scull

Jared Coffin House, named after a prominent Nantucket ship owner was built in 1845. * Photo: Ted Scull

  • Midwestern Rivers: Mississippi (Upper & Lower), Ohio and Cumberland rivers from 5, 8 to 11 days. The complete Mississippi from New Orleans to St. Paul is the longest at 15 or 22 days.
  • Pacific Northwest & Alaska: 5 and 8 days along on the Columbia and Snake Rivers; 8 & 11 days for the Puget Sound and San Juan Islands; 15 days along Alaska’s Inside Passage between Seattle & Juneau; and 8 and 11 days in Southeast Alaska.
  • Some cruises offer special themes such as the Civil War, Lewis & Clark, Mark Twain, Nashville country & blues, Columbia Valley wines. Walking tours from the ship are a common offering in many East Coast ports, while buses are used at others and jet-boats ride the Snake River rapids. Two sternwheelers are now positioned here. Most cruises are 7 nights/8 days while a few are 5 and 10, operating from early April to early November.
American Cruise Lines

American Song, with its European-style profile, entered in 2018. * Photo: American Cruise Lines

Why Go?

East Coast America begs to be seen from a small ship whether it’s exploring Maine’s indented shore line, lovely New England islands, the beauty of the Hudson River in autumn, land of pleasant living in the Chesapeake Bay, charms of the Deep South, and the Intracoastal Waterway that ties it all together.

The mighty Mississippi and its tributaries take you to America’s heartland of small towns and large river cities. A passage up the Columbia and Snake rivers offer more variety of landscapes and shore-side attractions than any stretch of river in North America. Cruise the Inside Passage up the British Columbia coast to Alaskan wonders and for an indelible slice of American history and wonderment.

When to Go?

The itineraries are scheduled for the best times of the year in most regions. However, the Mississippi and Columbia/Snake river valleys can be beastly hot in the summer months.

Cabins

There is no question that the cabins are amongst the largest in the small ship fleets with the vast majority 200 square feet and larger, and expanding up to 600 sq. ft. on the brand-new AMERICAN EAGLE. Amenities on all vessels include windows that slide open, many cabins with narrow balconies furnished with two chairs and a small table, good-size bathroom, free Wi-Fi, satellite TV and DVD player, writing desk, roomy closet and drawer storage.

All ships have dedicated single cabins, from just 2 to 19. Additionally, tw0 ships, AMERICA and AMERICAN PRIDE offer in-cabin coffee machines and internal phone for ordering room service, including a balcony breakfast, ideal for those who are not particularly chatty in the morning.

American Pride suite.* Photo: American Cruise Lines

American Pride suite.* Photo: American Cruise Lines

Public Rooms

The fleet shares similar layouts with the main observation lounge furnished with comfy upholstered living room-style armchairs and settees. Additionally, there are a couple of cozy mid-ship lounges (doubling occasionally as embarkation accesses) and a library.

The single dining room is invariably on the lowest deck and aft over the engines, which depending on the speed of the ship may generate some noise. The highest deck offers shelter and open lounge and deck chair seating.

Forward observation lounge aboard the Independence. * Photo: Ted Scull

Forward observation lounge aboard the Independence. * Photo: Ted Scull

Dining

The entire fleet can accommodate all passengers at one seating, mostly at communal tables of four to eight. Tables for two are not normally part of the lively social scene. Breakfast offers a window of time for getting your day started, while lunch and dinner are at set times, occasionally depending on the port schedules.

The food is very good American fare with high quality ingredients and special regional offerings such as steamed lobster, and lobster included in many dishes in New England, plus Chesapeake blue crabs, Georgia shrimp, Florida oysters, Iowa pork chops, Wisconsin artisan cheeses, and fresh salmon and sturgeon in the Northwest. Fresh produce is often bought locally, and the food preparation is uniformly very good to excellent.

Passengers choose their lunch and dinner options at breakfast to give the galley a rough idea of what to prepare. Changing one’s mind later is no problem. The young American college and post-college-age staff (sometimes seen as temporary grandchildren to some passengers) provides friendly and efficient, if not always polished service. Dress is always casual.

American Pride - Paddlewheel Lounge.* Photo: American Cruise Lines

American Pride – Paddlewheel Lounge.* Photo: American Cruise Lines

Activities & Entertainment

An historian, naturalist or scientist accompanies all cruises with special interest speakers in some ports. Entertainers and musicians also come on in some ports.

Special Notes

All ships have a small number of dedicated single cabins. Suggested tipping is high at $120 per person for a week’s cruise.

Along the Same Lines

Pearl Seas Cruises (sister company); Blount Small Ship Adventures (on U.S. East Coast and at a lower cost); American Queen Steamboat Company on the Mississippi River system and the Columbia/Snake rivers.

American Cruise Lines Contact Info

American Cruise Lines, 741 Boston Post Road, Suite 200, Guilford, CT 06437; Americancruiselines.com; 800-814-6880.

TWS

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American Queen Steamboat

American Queen Steamboat Company

COVID-19 UPDATE

American Queen Steamboat Company resumed cruising in October 2020.  Be sure to check the line’s website for up-to-date news.

The steamboat era was an exciting period of American history and happily modern-day travelers can experience the old-time thrill, watching their sternwheeler ease up to the landing to then take them on a river adventure along the Mississippi and its tributaries, the Ohio, Cumberland, Tennessee, and Illinois Rivers or in the Pacific Northwest along the Columbia and Snake Rivers.

Many stretches are notably scenic; there are locks to navigate and life in small-town America to discover, where the locals come down to the landing to welcome you. Embarkation and disembarkation cities provide an opportunity to linger a day or two. The company began with two boats and now has four.

The American Queen is simply the best replica steamboat that money can buy, and while she carries over our limit of 300 passengers, we consider her an exceptional exception so she deserves to join her smaller capacity fleet mates in our review here. The American Duchess and American Countess join American Queen on the Mississippi, while American Empress cruises the Columbia and Snake.

American Queen Steamboat Co. owns Victory Cruise Lines, which operates the identical 202-passenger coastal ships Victory I and Victory II with itineraries along the St. Lawrence River and into the Great Lakes, the New England and American Southeast and Mexico. An interesting aside, it also owns Hornblower Cruises & Events, operating dinner cruises, chartered private events and sightseeing tours from major American cities and destinations, including Niagara Falls, Liberty Island and Alcatraz.

RELATED: AQSC Acquires Victory Cruise Lines.  by Anne Kalosh

American Queen * Photo Credit: Ted Scull

FLEET 
  • American Queen (built 1996 & 414 passengers) – Mississippi, Ohio, Tennessee & Cumberland Rivers
  • American Duchess (b. 1995 & 166 p) – Mississippi, Ohio, Tennessee & Cumberland Rivers
  • American Empress (b. 2003 & 223 p) – Columbia & Snake Rivers
  • American Countess (b. 2020 & 245 p) – Mississippi, Ohio, Tennessee & Cumberland Rivers
Passenger Profile

Expect mostly Americans 60 and up who set out to discover their own country in a thoroughly relaxed setting, to enjoy the camaraderie of others, and discover American music, history, food and local attractions. Some passengers collect as many new navigable stretches of river as are offered. Most children will find the pace too slow, and with no activities designed for them, there will be few, if any, aboard.

Price

$$ to $$$  Expensive to Super Pricey

Included Features

While the price is high, there are a significant number of complimentary features to soften the blow.

  • Select shore excursions in every port
  • One-night pre-cruise hotel stay
  • Transfer to the steamboat
  • Beer and wine at dinner; coffees, teas, soft drinks and bottled water throughout the day
  • Bicycles and helmets
Locals come down to the river to watch the steamboat activity. * Photo: Ted Scull

Locals come down to the river to watch the steamboat activity. * Photo: Ted Scull

Itineraries

American Queen Steamboat Company’s American Queen, American Duchess and American Countess steam along three distinct stretches of Midwestern rivers.

Some cruises have themes such as Big Band, American Music Festival and the Music of the 50s and 60s.

The Lower Mississippi cruises, between New Orleans and Memphis, feature the Old South and Memphis-St. Louis; New Orleans and its great music, restaurants, Creole and Cajun culture; Antebellum plantations; Civil War history; Memphis and its music traditions and National Civil Rights Museum; plus watching considerable waterway commerce on the move. Most are 8 nights with shorter 5-night round trips operating from New Orleans.

The Upper Mississippi cruises, between Alton (23 miles north of St. Louis) and Red Wing (45 miles southeast of St. Paul), visit areas characterized by rolling hills and high bluffs; locking operations to navigate Ole Man River; riverside towns that blossomed during the steamboat era; dynamism of the Twin Cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis; and the brilliant autumn color. Itineraries range from 7 to 8 nights.

Cruises that run the full-length of the Mississippi operate between New Orleans and Red Wing, Minnesota (located just below Minneapolis/St. Paul) with 15-night itineraries.

The Ohio, Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers reveal stretches of wilderness; Civil War battlefields; small town and big city America; Nashville’s country music and the Grand Ole Opry. With a wide selection of 8-night itineraries, embarkations and disembarkations may be in Chattanooga, Louisville, Memphis, Nashville (50 miles southeast of Clarksville), Pittsburgh and St. Louis (Alton).

The American Duchess is nimble enough to cruise the Illinois River from Ottawa, located 90 miles southwest of Chicago to St. Louis and Red Wing (near Minneapolis). Collectors of rivers will go for this 8-night trip.

American Empress operates 6- to 8-night itineraries between Vancouver, Washington (near Portland, Oregon) and Clarkston, Washington, a town along the Columbia and Snake Rivers near the border with Idaho.

The 450 river miles between the Pacific Ocean breakers at the mouth of the Columbia and the Snake’s white-water rapids in Hells Canyon pack in more varied landscapes, natural and man-made wonders and destination choices than any water journey in the Americas. Explorers Meriweather Lewis and William Clark came this way, setting out in 1803 and arriving here in 1805, with 2016 marking the 211 the anniversary of a young America’s pioneering expedition arrival in these parts. During their trek, they recorded plant, bird and animal life and established relations with Native Americans, one of whom became their all-important guide — Sacagawea. — Ted Scull

Sample Itineraries

A typical Mississippi River itinerary, the 8-night “Southern Sampler” cruise, sails roundtrip from New Orleans, plying the southern Mississippi to St. Francisville, Louisiana; Natchez and Vicksburg in Mississippi; back to Baton Rouge and Nottoway in Louisiana; and finally arriving once again in New Orleans.

Lincoln’s Illinois is a unique itinerary of the American heartland. The 8-night cruise begins with an overnight in Memphis, river cruising first to Columbus, Kentucky before heading north into Illinois with calls at Chester, Grafton, Havana and Peoria before ending in Chicago (disembark at Ottawa, IL and transfer 90 miles by road).

Red paddlewheel provides propulsion. * Photo: Ted Scull

Red paddlewheel provides propulsion. * Photo: Ted Scull

Why Go?

To celebrate Americana: its history, glorious and varied scenery, river lore, music, food, small town and big cities, all in a thoroughly relaxed fashion aboard a steamboat. The glue that binds are the amazing river routes and the welcome one receives when people stop to watch the boat paddle by or view it passing through one of the lock chambers.

Locals are on hand to greet the boat when she arrives at a town landing and wave farewell with the festive departure accompanied by the steam calliope playing a jolly river lore tune or two.

When to Go?

Visit the Lower Mississippi from mid-February to New Year’s; Upper Mississippi (including Illinois River in summer) from summer into fall; Ohio, Tennessee and Cumberland rivers from summer into fall. Theme cruises may draw some to specific theme sailings and holidays aboard coinciding with Independence Day, Oktoberfest, Thanksgiving, Christmas and the New Year.

With the climate varying widely from maritime weather along the Pacific Coast to thick forests leading to the Columbia Gorge and semi-arid landscapes upriver, the temperatures and humidity will vary during the course of the cruise and in different seasons. Summer, however, can be searingly hot along the Snake River and in Hells Canyon.

Activities & Entertainment

Expect fantastic live entertainment, from a swing orchestra to Elvis tribute acts, dancing sessions with the chairs removed, and daily enrichment talks on river history and famous personalities delivered by the ship’s “riverlorian,” an expert in river lore and history. A small theater shows full-length films twice a day.

Puzzles, board games and cards are stored in the Mark Twain Gallery. Kite flying, an old tradition on steamboats, takes place on the Sun Deck when there are no low bridges ahead. Pilothouse tours take place when the boat is tied up, and the engine room is nearly always open for viewing the paddle wheel mechanisms and to have a chat with one of the engineers.

American Queen Steamboat Company’s itineraries include a river port every day, sometimes tying up for the morning or afternoon and occasionally all day. An included shore excursion program provides convenient hop on, hop off company-owned “steamcoaches” decorated to resemble a steamboat and plying a fixed route with numbered stops.

Many river ports are compact towns, and in most cases, one can return to the steamboat on foot. In addition, a program of premium choice tours are available for an extra charge that go further afield to the front lines of the Civil War battlefield at Vicksburg, a Kentucky Derby tour to the museum at Churchill Downs, and General Ulysses S. Grant’s home and town tour of Galena, Illinois.

Columbia and Snake River cruises offer lectures on board about the formation of the Columbia Gorge, history of the early 19th-century Lewis & Clark expedition, Native American culture, and the wine industry. Steamcoaches follow the boat and provide circular sightseeing routes to the fish ladders that allow the salmon to get past the dams, the cascading Multnomah Falls, and Fort Clatsop.

AMERICAN QUEEN

The best spot to be is in a rocking chair on the Texas Deck. Located all the way forward, it’s known as the Front Porch of America. — Ted Scull

The largest steamboat ever built, American Queen is the flagship paddlewheeler of the company. Built to carry 414 passengers (we’ve bended our 300-passenger limit to include her), she comprises six decks served by two elevators that reach all but the Sun Deck.

The rich interior design is High Victorian, evoking opulence with lavish details that include fine antiques, high-quality replica furnishings and decorative features.

The overall effect is a “Wow” as you step aboard and climb the forward staircase to enter the Cabin Deck public rooms.

The principal lounges and bars are located on the two lowest decks with additional spaces found higher up both fore and aft. The Grand Saloon traces its origins to Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C. and features several boxes on the mezzanine level.

American Queen's theater

The American Queen’s theater is modeled on a small-town opera house. * Photo: Ted Scull

Promenades encircle three decks and ample outdoor lounge areas, both covered and open to the sky, allowing relaxed river viewing. The Sun Deck has a small pool and a gym.

The J.M. White Dining Room is modeled after the dramatic space found on an 1878-built vessel of the same name. Three meals are served here; the dinner menu can include regional specialties such as Shrimp Creole, Smothered Crawfish and Grits and Mississippi Mud Pie. Alternative continental breakfast and a light lunch with salads, a carvery, poboys, and grilled hot dogs are served in the Front Porch Café, an indoor setting, with additional outside and under cover tables positioned to look forward over the bow. An Alfresco dinner is also served here, a lovely place to dine outside yet under cover, on a warm evening. Cabin service is also available.

Steamboat American Queen

J.M. White dining room. * Photo: Ted Scull

Cabins are attractively decorated with polished wood floors and colorful Victorian patterns on the furniture, fabrics and wallpaper; beds can be arranged as twins or a queen.

A stateroom aboard the AMERICAN QUEEN with a reminder of her predecessor DELTA QUEEN seen in the painting above the bed. * Photo: Ted Scull

A stateroom aboard the American Queen with a reminder of her predecessor Delta Queen seen in the painting above the bed. * Photo: Ted Scull

Suites can be as large as 500 sq. ft., however most cabins measure from 130 sq. ft. to 190 sq. ft. – small by oceangoing cruise standards. While many have verandahs, some are simply a shared promenade with your neighbor similar to the style of old steamboats, while others have private verandahs.

In cabin: en suite, TV with cable programming, free Wi-Fi, safe, complimentary bottled water, hair dryers.

RELATED: Ted interviews traveler Bill Forsstrom about his many American Queen cruises,

AMERICAN DUCHESS

The 166-passenger American Duchess entered service in late summer 2017 on the Mississippi River system, inaugurating cruises along the Illinois River approaching Chicago. This smaller boutique sternwheeler has three decks, all connected by an elevator.

American Duchess is a consort to the American Queen. * Photo: American Queen Steamboat Company

Dining is at the Grand Dining Room with The Grill Room, an 80-seat alternative one deck above and facing aft. The lobby, bar and the auditorium share the high-ceiling Main Deck with the main dining area. There is a small fitness center. Deck space appears to be at a premium.

Cabins range from 180 sq. ft. to 550 sq. ft., and all except interior rooms, have verandas. Unique two-level loft suites include loft space with a bedroom and private facilities.

In cabin: en suite, TV with cable programming, free Wi-Fi, safe, complimentary bottled water, hair dryers.

AMERICAN EMPRESS

The largest overnight riverboat west of the Mississippi, the 223-passenger American Empress has four decks and two elevators serving all.

AMERICAN EMPRESS at rest on the Columbia-Snake. * Photo: Anne Kalosh

American Empress at rest on the Columbia-Snake. * Photo: Anne Kalosh

Passengers can dine at two locations — the Astoria Dining Room on the Explorer Deck or more informally at the River Grill on Vista View Deck. The food is very good, and many ingredients are locally-sourced such as Pacific Northwest shellfish, fish, and fresh produce and the Columbia River Valley is major wine country.

The Show Lounge is forward with moveable chairs clustered around tables and a stage. A second, more intimate room is located one deck above and all the way aft looking out at the thrashing sternwheel, a bit of mesmerizing sight. Light musical entertainment takes place here.

Show Lounge - AMERICAN EMPRESS. * Photo: AQSB Co

Show Lounge – American Empress. * Photo: AQSB Co

All cabins are outside and arranged over four decks, with most measuring from 150 to 310 sq. ft. Apart from the windowed cabins on the lowest Explorer Deck, all offer verandas furnished with a couple of chairs and a table. Vista View Deck’s semi-private verandas open onto the side promenade creating a neighborly atmosphere with those living next door and others passing by. 

In cabin: en suite, TV with cable programming, free Wi-Fi, safe, coffeemaker, hair dryers.

AMERICAN COUNTESS

The fourth of the line’s sternwheelers, American Countess is built for 245 passengers and offers four decks, all but the topmost accessed via elevator.

American Queen Steamboat Company

AMERICAN COUNTESS. * Photo: American Queen Steamboat Co.

Two dining venues, the Grand Dining Room and casual River Grill, serve menus that highlight Southern heritage cuisine, while a pantry has self-service snacking.

The 120-foot-long portside bar has floor-to-ceiling glass for panoramic river views. There’s also a library, chart room, card room, theater and a gym with windows out to the scenery.

Not all cabins are outside, a number of inside cabins measure 170 sq. ft. Most cabins, however, are outside, measuring between 180 sq. ft. for single occupancy to 255 sq. ft. Many have either private balcony or open verandah, a shared outside space similar to old-style steamboats.

In cabin: en suite, TV with cable programming, free Wi-Fi, safe, complimentary bottled water, hair dryers.

RELATED: Small-ship Cruise Updates Sept 25, 2020.  by Anne Kalosh.

Special Notes

All four vessels are sternwheelers and their layouts vary widely. Some of the hotels used are classics: Peabody in Memphis; Brown in Louisville; Roosevelt in New Orleans; and Union Station in St. Louis.

Along the Same Lines

American Cruise Lines also operate sternwheelers (mostly for show rather than propulsion) and European-style riverboats on the Mississippi and sternwheelers along the Columbia and Snake rivers in the Pacific Northwest.

Contact Info

American Queen Steamboat Company; www.americanqueensteamboatcompany.com; info@aqsc.com; +1 (833) 598-0119

222 Pearl Street, New Albany, IN 47150

— TWS

 

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Pearl Seas Cruises

Pearl Seas Cruises

Pearl Seas Cruises is a newish (2014) subsidiary of the firm that owns American Cruise Lines with its large and ever-growing fleet of coastal and river ships. Its one ship, the 210-passenger PEARL MIST, shares many of the characteristics of the U.S. flag fleet yet it is an ocean-going vessel, registered in the Marshall Islands and operates with a largely non-American crew.

With this new ship, the firm’s cruise itineraries have expanded to New England, Eastern Seaboard, Eastern Canada, and the Great Lakes. Circumnavigations of Cuba were cancelled due to US government orders. Costa Rica and Panama, including canal transit, now cover the winter months. The ship is stabilized.

Pearl Mist in the St. Lawrence River. * Photo: Pearl Seas Cruises

Pearl Mist in the St. Lawrence River. * Photo: Pearl Seas Cruises

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

PEARL MIST (built 2014 & 210 passengers)

Passenger Profile

Mostly Americans and some Canadians, largely 50+ and many will be loyal American Cruise Lines’ passengers. Unlike the US-flag ACL, this ship is registered in the Marshall Islands and operates with a largely foreign national crew.

Passenger Decks

6; an elevator connects all cabin decks.

Price

$$$  Very Pricey

Included Features

Internet/WiFi; a daily cocktail hour before dinner, wine with lunch and dinner, open bar with hors d’oeuvres in the evening. Suggested tipping is high at $125 for a seven-day cruise or $18 a day.

Chateau Frontenac, Quebec City

Chateau Frontenac, Quebec City. * Photo: Ted Scull

Itineraries

➢For spring 2020, the PEARL MIST will makes its way up the Eastern Seaboard on a 10-day itinerary embarking at Charleston, then calling at Norfolk, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Newport, Portland, Bar Harbor and Halifax.

➢After that the ship heads to the St. Lawrence River and Seaway with port calls such as in the Saguenay Fjord, Quebec Montreal and Toronto and into the Great Lakes.

➢May and September, 11 and 15-day cruises sees the ship operating between Portland, Maine and Toronto calling at Canadian Maritimes ports, plying the St. Lawrence River (Quebec City & Montreal), St. Lawrence Seaway and into Lake Ontario for Toronto. Additional 7-day spring and fall cruises from Portland visit three ports in Maine and three ports in New Brunswick.

➢11-day cruises, June to September, sail between Toronto and Chicago passing through four Great Lakes and Georgian Bay and stopping at Mackinac Island and Sault Ste. Marie, and shorter 7-day itineraries operate in August between Toronto and Chicago.

Pearl Seas Cruises

The Grand Hotel, Mackinac Island. * Photo: Ted Scull

➢Leaving the Great Lakes in September, the ship takes advantage of the fall foliage season in Canadian Maritimes and New England with 10- and 14-day trips between Quebec City and Boston.

➢ In October, at the end of the Canada season, the ship heads south along the Eastern Seaboard (a reverse of the northbound itinerary; see  above).

Note: The PEARL MIST will then make its way to a series of weekly 7-night cruises operating between December 1, 2020 and February 2, 2021 that feature the Panama Canal. Alternate cruises will begin in Cartagena, a port in Colombia and once the capital of the Spanish Empire in America, then proceed to visit the Kuna people in the San Blas Islands and pause at Colon at the entrance to the Panama Canal. The passage includes several sets of locks, often filled with impressive container ships. a crossing of Gatun Lake and lovely tropical landscape either side. Once in the Pacific Ocean, there is a day call in at the beautiful Las Perlas Archipelago before returning to Balboa for a final visit to nearby Panama City, a modern metropolis peppered with French and Spanish colonial architecture. The cruise ends here, and the next one embarks for the itinerary in reverse.

 

Pearl Seas Cruises adds Panama Canal

Panama Canal. * Photo: Pearl Seas Cruises

Why Go?

PEARL MIST is a small ship with just 210 passengers, roomy within, and one of the few lines that covers the Great Lakes, plus the St. Lawrence River, Canadian Maritime Provinces, New England and the East Coast. New for the winter months, Costa Rica and Panama with a canal transit, a pioneering possibility.

When to Go?

As the ship moves around according to the seasons, the when to go is already obvious. One point to keep in mind is that fall foliage in Canada occurs about a month ahead of New England.

Cabins

All are outside with sliding glass doors leading to a balcony with table and two chairs, and some additionally also have large picture windows. They are arranged over four decks and divided into five categories. 12 are set aside as singles. Oddly, cabin 302 is alone in having no balcony. Amenities include flat-screen TV, DVD player, and complimentary WiFi. Connection speed will vary widely by location. Be patient and remember it’s free.

Public Rooms

Two lounges are located forward. The Pacific Lounge has good views over the bow and to either side while the Atlantic Lounge, two decks below, has views to port and starboard. Additional small lounges are located on the next to lowest (2nd) deck and the Library Lounge on the 4th deck. The highest (6th deck) offers both covered and open seating.

Dining

The dining room, located aft on the main (lowest) deck, seats all at one open seating. Meals receive high marks and cater to North American tastes. Wine is included at lunch and dinner.

Activities & Entertainment

Exercise equipment resides outside on the 5th or Sun Deck. One or two lecturers travel with the ship to prepare passengers for what’s ashore. Mostly musical entertainment comes aboard in some ports.

Special Notes

While the ship has much in common with some of the larger vessels in the American Cruise Lines fleet, a sister company, the crew here is international. Many passengers will come over from ACL, hence a largely North American passenger list.

Along the Same Lines

Victory Cruise Lines operates similar itineraries on the Great Lakes, along the St. Lawrence River, and in the Canadian maritime provinces.

Contact

Pearl Seas Cruises, 741 Boston Post Road, Suite 250, Guilford, CT 06437. 1-888-882-1595. PearlSeasCruises.com

 

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New England Islands Cruising

By Ted Scull.

(Note: updated from an original December 2015 post.)

To visit New England’s enchanting islands, a small ship cruise is by far the best way to sample them as trying to do the rounds independently involves making individual round-trip ferry reservations to each one, a costly proposition and in the height of the season often very difficult to get. Yes, you could leave the car behind in paid parking lots and then when you arrive, you are on your own to get around, while a small ship cruise will offer half-day and full-day trips to the best of the island’s attractions and advice how to do some of your visits independently. When you return to the car on the mainland, you have to drive to the next ferry landing and park the car again.

Two U.S.-flag lines, American Cruise Lines (ACL) and Blount Small Ship Adventures make the rounds, and I have sampled both on roughly similar itineraries. The price difference between the two is staggering. ACL is very expensive (starting at $3,970 per person), and many who could afford the higher fares would be happy right down to the less expensive cabins. Aboard the 84-passenger Blount pair, the Grande Mariner and Grande Caribe, the difference between higher end cabins and the least expensive is quite pronounced, and the lower end are very small and some are inside with no natural light. However, with the lead in per person rate at $2,259,  they allow some people to travel who cannot afford more, and all share the same ship facilities — dining, lounge, deck space and the itinerary. The highest rate on Blount is still less than the minimum rate on ACL.

Note: Blount’s cruise is six nights and ACL’s is seven. However, on many departures, Blount offers a $150 supplement for early boarding that includes dinner, the night and breakfast, a day in advance of sailing and make the cruise seven nights.

Blount’s New England itinerary is to embark in New York then call at Block Island, Newport, Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket, and ending in Boston, or in reverse by starting in Boston. Go to blountsmallshipadventures.com for a description of the two identical vessels, their layout and accommodations.

To get the full flavor of what the New England Islands’ cruise is all about, I will use an American Cruise Lines cruise I’ve sampled, as the example.

American Cruise Lines

Approaching the Independence, the ship shows off a rakish, four-deck profile with a sharp bow, two backward-leaning masts, sloping red, white and blue funnel, prominent sun visors above the pilot house, and square picture-windows punctuating the length of the superstructure. Not a porthole in sight. A wonderful conveyance for New England Islands cruising.

The cruise line’s American Star is similar and together they operate seven-night cruises May to September from Providence, Rhode Island to New Bedford, Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard, Block Island, Newport and Bristol/Fall River, then returning to Providence.

Read Ted’s “12 Irresistible Reasons to Visit New England on a Small-ship Cruise.”

For the passenger seeking roominess on a small ship, the Independence offers space in spades. All double cabins measure 265 square feet, and those with balconies add an additional 48 square feet. They come furnished with two chairs and a table, and the four single cabins on these decks also have balconies.

Unlike most other U.S.-flag coastal vessels, the Independence and the rest of the ACL fleet have multiple lounges, allowing passengers to seek a quiet or social place to read, play games, talk or work on the computer. Two rooms have seating for about eight and often double as entrance foyers in port. The forward Chesapeake Lounge, with good views ahead and to both sides, is arranged like a plush extra-large living room with very comfortable upholstered chairs and couches and occasional chairs.

Forward corner of the main lounge. * Photo: Ted Scull

Forward corner of the main lounge. * Photo: Ted Scull

The dining room is aft on the lowest passenger deck. Breakfast begins at 7:30 a.m. and runs for 90 minutes. All meals are open seating at tables of four, six and eight. The buffet offers a small selection of fruit, cereals and freshly baked muffins. Orders are taken for main courses such as blueberry pancakes, Belgian waffles, and eggs Benedict, or eggs any style, served along with bacon, sausages, toast and bagels.

Dining & Lecturers

At breakfast, passengers check off their choices for lunch and dinner, a preparation guide for the chef rather than fixed-in-stone selections. Typical lunch (12:30 p.m.) items on a New England itinerary are Rhode Island clam chowder, oysters Rockefeller and a mixed green salad as appetizers, plus Maine lobster ravioli, shrimp salad sandwich and corned beef Reuben as the main courses.

Dinner (6:30 p.m.) might be soup of the day and shrimp cocktail as appetizers and then grilled swordfish, beef tenderloin or a whole steamed lobster; a vegetarian selection is always available.

The quality of the ingredients is high and preparation ranges from good to excellent. Complimentary red and white wines are on the dinner table, and if the selection does not please, there are other choices. Wine is also available at lunch for the asking.

Conversation flows along with the wine at dinner. * Photo: Ted Scull

Conversation flows along with the wine at dinner. * Photo: Ted Scull

A lecturer with skills in photography traveled with our cruise, and local guides added regional knowledge. Occasionally, musicians come aboard. Shore excursions by bus and on foot are fairly priced while some are complimentary walks into town or along the waterfront.

Usually the ship is docked by dinnertime and sails to the next port in the early morning or late afternoon. This allows an after dinner walk, often still light enough to enjoy the evening light and possibly a gorgeous sunset with the sun dropping the sea.

Underway

Over a Memorial Day Weekend, my wife and I took a six-night New England Islands cruise from Providence, Rhode Island. The embarkation dock, located at the head of Narragansett Bay, is just 10 minutes by taxi from the Providence railroad station, the city’s airport and several downtown hotels. Passenger boarding started at 9 a.m., and we simply showed a ticket at the gangway and walked aboard with our luggage trailing right behind.

Once all had embarked, the Independence sailed south through Narragansett Bay’s sheltered waters, out into the Atlantic for about an hour, then finally slipping through the flood gates into New Bedford, Massachusetts late in the day, to tie up at State Pier amidst a vast fleet fishing vessels. On a 90-minute harbor tour, we learned that, in terms of value of the catch, New Bedford ranks number one with deep-sea scallops the main source followed by fish, clams, and crabs.

Fishing, especially for scallops, is a lucrative New Bedford tradition. * Photo: Ted Scull

Fishing, especially for scallops, is a lucrative New Bedford tradition. * Photo: Ted Scull

The city rivaled Nantucket during the whaling days and shows off outstanding examples of substantial 19th-century houses built by sea captains and local industrialists. With a street map from the tourist office, we took in the rich architectural variety in the space of a delightful hour. In fact, everything of interest is within walking distance or via a rubber-tire-type trolley, including the outstanding whaling museum (allow an hour or more) and the nearby Seamen’s Bethel (Chapel) that featured in the novel “Moby Dick.” In the evening, a semi-retired fisherman boarded and regaled about it is like to make a living at sea. It’s a tough life but the monetary rewards are there for those who hustle.

Large houses are a legacy of New Bedford's whaling days. * Photo: Ted Scull

Large houses are a legacy of New Bedford’s whaling days. * Photo: Ted Scull

Nantucket

Leaving New Bedford well before dawn, we crossed Nantucket Sound and slipped between the jetties leading to Nantucket Island’s harbor as a regatta of several dozen sailing yachts headed out. The ship dropped anchor just beyond the huge anchored flotilla of visiting yachts, and a launch took us ashore.

The town is a National Historic District and an absolute treasure trove of New England architecture, from simple grey shingle-style salt boxes, some topped with widow’s walks, to large Federal-Style brick mansions. The most prominent are the elegant “Three Bricks” on cobbled Upper Main Street, built in 1836-38 by whaling merchant Joseph Starbuck for his three sons.

Unlike Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket has very few buildings from the wooden High Victorian period. When the whaling industry collapsed, the island became quite poor; hence there was little new building in the last half of the century. Recovery did not start until the summer resort role took hold in the early 20th century.

The Jared Coffin House, built in 1845, offers oeriod rooms and lounges, a tap room and restaurant. * Photo: Ted Scull

The Jared Coffin House, built in 1845, offers period rooms and lounges, a tap room and restaurant. * Photo: Ted Scull

My wife and I planned an all-day trek that would take us to the dozen houses that my family had rented or owned since my grandparents and great aunt and uncle started summering on the island in the 1920s. Situated in town, on high bluffs and close to the beach, most were happily little changed, while two have been enlarged and one torn down to be replaced by something much larger.

One of a string of houses we rented for the month of August, now many years ago. * Photo: Ted Scull

One of a string of houses we rented for the month of August, now many years ago. * Photo: Ted Scull

Meanwhile the other passengers took a three-hour island tour or used the inexpensive local bus system to reach the tiny village of ‘Sconset, eight miles distant on the island’s east side or south to the Atlantic Ocean at Surfside for a beach walk and to watch the breakers.

Some spent their time in the enchanting town center, walking the cobble-stoned Main Street and following a suggested residential district loop. Turn left off Main and follow Orange Street as far as York, then right and right again on Pleasant. The street returns to the upper end of Main Street opposite the Starbuck’s handsome Three Bricks.

The Vineyard & Block Island

During the evening social hour, we sailed around Brant Point Light and across the Sound to Martha’s Vineyard, docking just after dinner at Vineyard Haven. Here we remained for two nights.

Some opted for the island tours to the Victorian village of Oak Bluffs, upscale Edgartown and the dramatic headlands at Aquinnah, while the more independent-minded used the island’s subsidized bus network to visit many of the same places.

We joined friends who own a tiny gingerbread Victorian in Oak Bluffs, one of over 200 built as part of the Methodist Camp Meeting Association in the 19th century and now a National Historic Landmark.

A lovely row of gingerbread Victorian at Oak Bluffs, Martha's Vineyard. * Photo: Ted Scull

A lovely row of gingerbread Victorian at Oak Bluffs, Martha’s Vineyard. * Photo: Ted Scull

In the middle of the night, we pushed off for a seven-hour sail to Block Island, a small dot in the Atlantic that a good walker can navigate on foot in a day. The island rose to utterly charming prominence in the second half of the 19th century when several wooden New England-style hotels were built facing the Old Harbor or on high ground just inland. The prominent ones that remain are the National Hotel fronting directly on the harbor and the Spring House set high on a hill overlooking the sea.

The National Hotel facing Old Harbor, Block Island. * Photo: Ted Scull

The National Hotel facing Old Harbor, Block Island. * Photo: Ted Scull

Vans tours set out from New Harbor to explore the hilly island with its lovely freshwater ponds, steep cliffs, bird sightings, and the main attraction — the impressive Southeast Lighthouse overlooking the Atlantic.

As we are walkers, my wife and I followed roughly the same route on foot then found the lighthouse enshrouded in thick fog and doing its thing, sending out a powerful warning that can be heard miles out to sea.

Newport on Many Levels

The short sail to Newport had us tie up at Fort Adams, a military defense built following the War of 1812. We used the launch service to downtown Newport and explored the city’s original 19th-century town center and its narrow lanes, just two blocks inland from Thames Street’s tourist shops.

Scheduled rubber-tire trolleys and a ship’s bus tour operated to the International Tennis Hall of Fame & Museum and the Breakers, one of the dozen extravagant mansions along Bellevue Avenue that are open to the public.

A former Newport summer cottage, now Salve Regina University, seen from the Cliff Walk. * Photo: Ted Scull

A former Newport summer cottage, now Salve Regina University, seen from the Cliff Walk. * Photo: Ted Scull

After our tour of Touro Synagogue, built in 1763 and the oldest remaining synagogue building in the United States, we walked past the Catholic Church where John and Jacky Kennedy were married. Continuing on, we followed Memorial Boulevard to the start of the dramatic Cliff Walk that I frequented during my boarding school years; it offers front-yard views of many estates. The first section is easily walkable passing the Breakers, Rosecliff, the Marble House and its charming Chinese Tea House to Doris Duke’s Rough Point. The path thereafter, badly damaged more than once by hurricanes, is best left to those who can spring from rock to rock. A section may be even closed but there is plenty to see along the initial two-mile route.

Our final stop at Bristol, Rhode Island, a charming waterfront setting facing Narragansett Bay, put us right across the street from the Herreshoff Marine Museum, the site of the former shipyard that once produced eight America’s Cup defenders, sleek private steam and sailing yachts, fast torpedo boats for the U.S. Navy, and waterline models.

Don't miss the lovely residential district near Brown University in Providence, RI. * Photo: Ted Scull

Don’t miss the lovely residential district near Brown University in Providence, RI. * Photo: Ted Scull

Later in the afternoon, we sailed north to the head of the bay, returning to Providence for disembarkation the next morning after breakfast.

For most passengers, New England was a first-time experience, and with three off-shore islands involved, an itinerary such as this would be awkward and hugely expensive to drive due to the considerable cost of taking a car on the ferries. For us, this is a region we have known over a lifetime, and one that we cannot get enough of.  And the weeklong New England island-hopping cruises offered by ACL and Blount are a great way to travel!

Click here for booking information on American Cruise Lines.  And here for Blount. 

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Victory I of Victory Cruise Lines

Victory Cruise Lines

Victory Cruise Lines began operating with a short first season in 2016 along the St. Lawrence River and in the Great Lakes, using the American-built coastal ship Cape May Light (built in 2001), which had operated for Delta Queen Coastal Cruises until that company went bankrupt. After a lay-up period and work for other firms, she joined the new line in 2016 as Victory I.

A second unit, built as the US-flag Cape Cod Light, most recently sailed as the Sea Discoverer until chartered by this line in 2017. Following a refit in Europe, it appeared in summer 2018 as Victory II and focused on New England, Eastern Canada, St. Lawrence Valley, and the Great Lakes.

In 2019, both ships were purchased by American Queen Steamboat Company, and the pair will continue to operate as a brand, retaining the name Victory Cruise Lines. They expanded their horizons to include the American Southeast and Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula.

The line also includes the charter of a small 200-passenger ship called Ocean Victory, which was built for Miami-based SunStone Ships, offering Alaska and Pacific Coast cruises. Another operator, Albatros Expeditions, will charter the vessel for the rest of the year.

An interesting aside, sister-company Hornblower Cruises & Events operates dinner cruises, chartered private events and sightseeing tours from major American cities and destinations, including Niagara Falls, Liberty Island and Alcatraz.

RELATED: AQSC Acquires Victory Cruise Lines.  by Anne Kalosh

Victory Cruise Lines

OCEAN VICTORY will cruise Alaska in summer 2021. Here is a rendering of the splendid library. * SunStone Ships

COVID-19 UPDATE

Victory Cruise Lines will resume cruising in April 2021.

Be sure to check the line’s website for up-to-date news.

FLEET
  • Victory I (built 2001 & 202 passengers) – Great Lakes & St. Lawrence River
  • Victory II (b. 2004 & 202 p) – Great Lakes, St. Lawrence River, New England, American Southeast & Mexico
  • Ocean Victory (b. 2020 & 200 p) – Alaska & Pacific Northwest
Victory Cruise Lines

The Victory I . * Photo: Victory Cruise Lines

RELATED: Writer Peter Knego reports on his Great Lakes cruise aboard Victory I.

RELATED: Judi Cohen shares details about her Victory II cruise.

Passenger Profile

Americans, Canadians, and a few Europeans mainly 50 and up. Many passengers will be veterans of American Queen Steamboat Company who will have broader horizons to pursue.

Price

$$ to $$$ – Pricey

Included Features
  • Pre-voyage hotel stay
  • On-board meals, afternoon tea service & evening cocktails
  • Wine, spirits, beer, coffee, tea & soft drinks
  • Wi-Fi in public areas
  • One shore excursion in each port

Tips are not included; the recommended amounts are $15 per person per day for the ship’s crew, and ashore, $5 per person for guides and $2 for the bus driver.

Itineraries

Victory Cruise Lines is known for Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River cruises, which run from between 8 to 16 nights, and Canada and New England cruises, which run from between 8 to 13 nights.

victory-cruise-lines

Toronto’s skyline seen from Center Island, reached by passenger ferry from downtown. * Photo: Ted Scull

Public Gardens, Halifax

Public Gardens, Halifax, Nova Scotia. * Photo: Ted Scull

After the autumn foliage changes, the ships sail south for 12- to 13-night cruises of the historic American Southeast and the Bahamas (they cruise this region in the spring months as well, when the ships are repositioning back north).

Over the winter, the ships cruise Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula with 10-night itineraries. The line also offers an Alaskan and Pacific Northwest cruise, ranging from 11 to 16 nights, during the summer months.

Sample Itinerary

Yucatán’s Mayan Cruise Tour begins with an overnight in Cancun, Mexico before embarking in Cozumel/Tulum for 9 nights of sailing on the scenic Gulf of Mexico with calls at Costa Maya, Progresso, Campeche and Valladolid before returning to Cancun.

Why Go?

The key is the ease of cruising on a small ship to attractive ports, large and small, in the US and Canada. Few ships cruise the Great Lakes, though the numbers are growing. So it’s less charted territory for the many aficionados of exploring inland waters — lakes, rivers and canals.

Grand Hotel, Mackinac Island

Grand Hotel, Mackinac Island, lives up to its name. *Photo: Ted Scull

When to Go?

The Great Lakes, St. Lawrence Seaway and Alaska cruises operate from May to October, the best months for touring the region.

Mexico is visited in the winter, with the U.S. Southeast in the shoulder months.

Sustainability Initiatives

On Ocean Victory, passengers are given personal water bottles that can be refilled at various on-board water stations.

RELATED: Ocean Victory Heading to Alaska.  By Anne Kalosh.

Activities & Entertainment

Victory I and Victory II host on-board lectures and have games in the lounge. Each night there’s live entertainment from the in-house band. Each port has a free excursion or optional premium experience led by local guides.

SHIPS 

Victory I

Victory II

These 202-passenger sister ships each have 5 decks accessed by elevator.

There are two dining rooms, the main Coastal Dining Room serves regional and seasonal fare and there’s a contemporary and casual Grill.

A cozy tavern serves up cocktails, while the Compass Lounge handles lectures and larger gatherings in a bright and airy space.

Victory I tavern

The cozy Seascape Tavern aboard Victory I * Photo: Victory Cruise Lines

The sun deck provides an aft-facing observation lounge, and a wraparound promenade has a narrow path for constitutional walkers. Victory I & II also have a fitness center, spa, salon and medical clinic.

All cabins are doubles with twin or queen-size beds, picture windows and measurements of 146 to 185 sq. ft., and a single owner’s suite at 335 sq. ft.

Single travelers normally pay 160% for single occupancy of a double cabin.

In cabin: en suite, individual climate control, TV, minifridge, safe.

Victory Cruise Lines

An AA Category cabin aboard VICTORY I * Photo: Victory Cruise Lines

Ocean Victory

A contemporary expedition ship, the 200-passenger Ocean Victory packs a lot on its six spacious passenger decks (all of which have elevator service).

Meals are served in the Main Restaurant, the Panorama Specialty Restaurant, at an outdoor bistro and barbeque deck. Enjoy coffee, tea and cocktails at the Explorer Bar and an observation lounge that wraps around the front of the ship for optimal views.

Passengers can attend programs in the Expedition Lecture Room and learn on their own at the Voyager Library.

For relaxation, there’s a showpiece pool that has glass infinity-style walls, two Jacuzzis, a fitness center, spa and boutique. Ocean Victory has Zodiacs and kayaks, a mudroom and medical clinic.

Cabins have queen and twin beds and desks, many have private balconies, a few have French balconies, still others have porthole views.

In cabin: en suite, TV, minifridge, safe, hair dryer.

Alaska Expedition Cruises with Victory

The 200-passenger Ocean Victory with its distinctive X-Bow profile. * Rendering: Victory Cruise Lines

Special Notes

A doctor is carried on all cruises, operating out of an infirmary.

Along the Same Lines

Pearl Seas Cruises operates some similar itineraries, while Croisieres Saint Jacques and St. Lawrence Cruise Lines exclusively cruise the St. Lawrence River.

Contact

Victory Cruise Lines, US-based; www.victorycruiselines.com; +1 (833) 548 0187.

— TWS

 

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The Pacific Northwest’s Scenic Columbia & Snake Rivers.

By Ted Scull.

Few passengers aboard UnCruise Adventure‘s 90-passenger SS Legacy had the slightest inkling of just how dramatic a river journey could be and how they can become personal explorers.

At dawn on the first morning of the cruise, I awoke to the sight of Pacific breakers pounding the breakwater at the mouth of the Columbia River.

Days later we had arrived at the headwaters of navigation where Idaho, Oregon and Washington borders meet, for a jet boat ride up through the Hells Canyon Snake River rapids. Herds of big horn sheep watched us from the slopes above. We step ashore to become acquainted with our natural surroundings.

Sailing upriver, the soggy coast gives way to the dramatic Columbia Gorge and the flanking rain forests. We stopped at the foot of pencil-thin 620-feet high Multnomah Falls and enjoyed a hike up to a bridge directly opposite the cascading waters that literally spill over a cliff edge from a point high above.

UnCruise guests on the Benson Bridge at Multnomah Falls on a Columbia & Snake Rivers cruise

UnCruise guests on the Benson Bridge at Multnomah Falls. * Photo: UnCruise

The Columbia Gorge, Locks & Dams

Just above the Columbia Gorge, a wide section of the river subject to high winds, became the birthplace for windsurfing and kite surfing, highly popular pastimes in the warmer months.

At Bonneville Dam and Locks, a guide told us about hydroelectric power. She also explained that she counts salmon and shad to keep an annual record of these important fish numbers. While she spoke, lamprey eels and fish passed by the lounge windows to climb the ladders — a series of pools that allow them to make their way upstream.

Many of the eight locks we would pass through have lifts of 100 feet; that’s 15 feet higher than the combined three Gatun Locks in the Panama Canal.

Then at the nearby Columbia River Gorge Discovery Center, the exhibits and a film explained the cataclysmic geological creation of the gorge and the tribal history of Nez Perce.

Explorers such as Meriwether Lewis and William Clark came this way in the first years of the 19th century. They were followed by missionaries and early settlers, using the Oregon Trail and Columbia River.

There are 8 locks on the Columbia & Snake Rivers itinerary.

The Legacy transits 8 locks on the Columbia & Snake Rivers itinerary. * Photo: UnCruise

Out of the Forest and Into Hells Canyon

Leaving the Columbia River and climbing the Snake, the land becomes increasingly arid with colorful plateaus and basalt rock formations flanking the river, taking on a distinctly southwestern appearance.

At times, there was no sign of human habitation. Then a long freight train carrying grain would slide by on the shore, give us a whistle, then disappear returning the landscape to silence.

Docking at Clarkston, Washington opposite Lewistown, Idaho, we boarded jet boats for the white-water 50-mile day trip up into the Snake River’s Hells Canyon, the deepest gorge in North America. Rocky Mountain big horn sheep, recently reintroduced following their decimation in 1926, dotted the cliffs and tiny patches of sand at water level.

Jet Boat Tour into Hell's Canyon on a Columbia & Snake Rivers cruise

Jet Boat Tour into Hell’s Canyon. * Photo: UnCruise

Fishermen were out in force in boats angling for steelhead trout as we passed from Washington to Oregon and Idaho. We stopped three times, for a stroll up to a naturalist site with a great view along the canyon, for a picnic lunch, and for a close-up study of some ancient Indian petroglyphs drawn on a flat rock surface.

Columbia & Snake Rivers

The SS Legacy. * Photo: Ted Scull

Downriver to Maryhill

En route downriver, we made a visit to Maryhill, a mansion-now-museum built by railroad baron Samuel Hill high up a cliff overlooking the river and housing an eclectic art collection. It features Rodin sculpture, chess sets, costumes, Fabergé eggs and jewelry that had belonged to Queen Marie of Romania.

When & What

The one-week Columbia & Snake Rivers trips operate in September, October and sometimes early November with the wine and culinary departures in the later part of the season. Vineyards undulate through the Hood River Valley in both Oregon and Washington.

Overhead view of a vineyard near Hood River on a Columbia & Snake Rivers cruise

Overhead view of a vineyard near Hood River. * Photo: UnCruise

The plethora of activities during the week may include hiking (walking poles available), kayaking, inflatable skiffs, paddle boarding, and of course, presentations by naturalists in the ship’s lounge and ashore. Out on deck look for osprey, white pelicans and bald eagers.

UnCruise Adventures SS Legacy

John & Colleen kayaking in the Palouse River. * Photo: John Roberts

SS Legacy: A Classic Beauty

The SS Legacy provides the perfect stage, both inside and out, to witness the stunning landscape of this region. A 1985-built product of Bender Shipbuilding & Repair, Mobile, Alabama, twin Caterpillar diesels drive her at up to 15 knots, a generous speed for a small coastal passenger vessel.

At 192 feet in length, the SS Legacy carries up to 90 passengers and an All-American crew of 34-35.

Dan Blanchard, Un-Cruise Adventures owner and CEO, has spent his entire life living and working in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest, He knows that with the SS Legacy he has a gem on his hands.

In her current guise, the hull at the main deck is black with a thick gold stripe above that. The black funnel has a narrow gold top and is embossed with a gold star. Her three masts are black with gold at the forepeak.

Guests moving to and from the SS Legacy by skiff on a Columbia & Snake Rivers cruise

Guests moving to and from the SS Legacy by skiff. * Photo: UnCruise

Within the Vessel

Both the Main Lounge and the Dining Room have retro patterned tin ceilings, while wooden panels enclose the square columns and surround the wooden dance floor.

The lounge’s wooden bar with its elaborately wood-framed mirrored-glass backdrop is particularly inviting whether taking to one of the five stools or standing at either end to chat up the bartender and fellow passengers.

UnCruise Adventures SS Legacy

Business as usual at the ship’s bar. * Photo: John Roberts

The lounge, seating all passengers at one time, is furnished with formal wood-framed chairs surrounding small marble-topped tables, and by the windows, plush armchairs and settees. The deep blue carpet is studded with symmetrically arranged stylized stars. Views to the outside encompass a 270-degree arc.

relaxing in the lounge on a Columbia & Snake River cruise

Relaxing on board the SS Legacy. * Photo: Ted Scull

Dining

In the dining room one deck below and aft, the seating is banquettes and round tables for six with views through the large port and starboard windows. A handsome dark-wood serving buffet with a mirrored backdrop is framed by fluted wooden pilasters.

All meals are waiter-served with ample seating for all passengers to dine at once. Depending on the daily itinerary, breakfast service starts at 7:30 or 8:00, while lunchtime is between noon and 1:00 and dinner at 6:30 or 7:00.

The Klondike dining room aboard the Legacy

The Klondike dining room. * Photo: UnCruise

The friendly American staff, exhibiting a wide range of ages, provides good service, and the food is varied and very well prepared.

Dinner may start with a chef’s amuse, something creative and tangy, then moves onto black bean soup, smoked salmon chowder or melon with prosciutto chips. The main course (a choice of three entrees) might be seared jumbo prawns, poached arctic char, rack of lamb chops, veal saltimbocca, and for vegetarians, goat cheese and spinach lasagna, linguini with mushrooms or a saffron vegetable risotto.

Freshly made desserts are peach and blueberry Napoleon, citrus cheese cake and, perhaps, Baked Alaska. Complimentary beers from Alaska and Seattle and red and white wines, featuring Columbia River Valley origins, accompany lunch and dinner.

Breakfast service has a daily changing special and always available eggs of any style, along with bacon, sausages, toast, cereal, yoghurt, fresh fruit and juices.

An early riser breakfast is served on the Grand Salon’s buffet, and it includes a couple of daily changing hot dishes. Most passengers who start their breakfast here, then descend to the dining room for the multi-course affair.

Fresh fruit is available all day, with homemade baked cookies in the afternoon and a generous selection of changing hors d’oeuvres before dinner. Wine, beer, soft drinks, cocktails, coffee and tea are complimentary and available throughout the day.

In the corner of the dining room is a wine bar and then keep going aft and you hit the Pesky Barnacle, a gathering space wrapped around the stern for donning life jackets for excursions. From here you step into the Sea Dragon that provides easy access to the inflatable skiffs, kayaks and other waterborne activities.

Other Amenities

Additional amenities are a sauna on the Upper Deck, two hot tubs on Bridge Deck, plus exercise cycles aft and under cover on the same deck. Yoga classes are conducted here as well.

UnCruise Adventures SS Legacy

Yoga session on deck. * Photo: John Roberts

All About Cabins

The 45 cabins on three decks are all outside, ranging from 100 to 297 square feet, with those on Lounge and Upper decks having doors that open onto side decks for super quick access to what’s outside. The Upper Deck promenade provides a circular constitutional walk with 14.4 circuits equaling a mile. Cabins on Main Deck have portholes, and a large 600-square-foot, two-room Owner’s Suite sits in splendor isolation atop the Sun Deck just aft of the bridge. It comes with all sorts of amenities such as a stocked wet bar, private DVD collection, two TVs and a small library.

Bed arrangements are fixed twins, double beds or queens. Two forward cabins sleep up to three and the suite up to four. Cabins have individual temperature control, flat screen TV/DVD and a iPod docking station. All have a vanity-cum-desk, chair, adequate drawer and closet space, and small bathrooms with showers. Antique-style mirrors are attached to the bathroom doors.

The cabins have wood-framed padded headboards, frosted reading lamps, brass window trim with the top pane a drop window, thus allowing a flow of fresh air. An elevator connects three of the four passenger decks.

Columbia & Snake Rivers

Here is a Commander category cabin. * Photo: UnCruise

Topside & in the Pilothouse

Three forward viewing areas are on the Lounge Deck with stairs up to the Upper and Bridge decks. The pilothouse is roomy and open to passengers unless otherwise stated, usually when maneuvering in tight spaces. The captain and the first mate are welcoming and often have company. Converse about whatever is on your mind, perhaps about navigation in still and rapidly flowing waters.

Most impressive are the large wooden wheel and handsome twin brass telegraphs along with all the modern equipment needed to navigate the boat in open and constricted coastal and inland waters.

The SS Legacy’s classic steamboat style and period interiors provide the perfect vehicle for appreciating the historical nature of the trip as well as the spectacular scenery from vantage points all over the vessel.

C’mon in! The Legacy’s bridge. * Photo: Ted

The Best Part?

We’re giving a free cruise for two aboard the SS Legacy — 7 nights on the Columbia and Snake Rivers. Click here to enter and sign up today; the contest ends June 30, 2019.

Columbia & Snake Rivers itinerary

The Columbia & Snake Rivers itinerary.

 

Read more about cruising on the Columbia & Snake Rivers in contributor John Roberts’ article!

 

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© This article is protected by copyright, no part may be reproduced by any process without written permission from the author. All Rights Reserved. QuirkyCruise.com.

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QuirkyCruise Review of Ponant

Cruising for over a quarter century, this chic French line is a Francophile’s dream. Ponant’s crew is discreet, the décor is subtle and the food is tantalizing. French desserts, French cheeses and French wines accompany passengers on cruises around the world, from French Polynesia and the Caribbean to the North and South Poles, and lots in between.

Passengers are a well-traveled, well-dressed international lot and the handsome captains stroll around the ship in short sleeves chatting to guests as if they are one of the passengers. Ponant is a bit of Europe no matter where the ships are sailing.

In late 2014, the company’s name was simplified from the French Compagnie du Ponant, to just Ponant, a simpler name for the company’s growing international audience, though Ponant still remains the only French-flagged, French-flavored cruise line out there. Ponant is in the midst of building frenzy, with six 184-passenger expedition vessels in the pipeline between now and 2021. As they are delivered, itineraries will be expanded to offer more frequent sailings and brand-new destinations.

A hybrid electric icebreaker is to appear in 2021 and be able to make it to Geographic 90 Degrees North — The North Pole.

Note: Some sailings are directly operated by Ponant and others are under charter to well-known firms for individual sales as well as for special interest groups.

N.B. In August 2019, Ponant announced that the French-owned line has bought Paul Gauguin Cruises, operating the ship PAUL GAUGUIN in French Polynesia and that the ship will continue to operate under its current name.

Ponant's fleet hits the poles and lots in between. * Photo: Ponant

Ponant’s fleet hits the poles and lots in between. * Photo: Ponant

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

LE BOREAL (built 2010, 132 passengers), L’AUSTRAL (b. 2011, 132 p), LE SOLEAL (b. 2013, 132 p), LE LYRIAL (b. 2014, 122 p), LE PONANT (b. 1991, 64 p), LE LAPEROUSE (b. 2018, 184 p), LE CHAMPLAIN (b. 2018, 184 p),  LE  BOUGAINVILLE (b. 2019, 184 p) and LE DUMONT-D’URVILLE (b. 2019, 184 p), LE BELLOT (due April 2020, 184p), LE JACQUES CARTIER, the sixth Explorer-class ship (due July 2020, 184p), and LE COMMANDANT CHARCOT (due April 2021, 270 p), specifically designed for polar explorations.

Ponant's mini cruise ships are dwarfed by the giants. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Ponant’s mini cruise ships are dwarfed by the giants. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Passenger Profile

Mostly Europeans, heavy on French, Swiss and Germans, with a sprinkling of Francophiles from everywhere else — North America, Brazil, you name it. Children are welcome, but are expected to be well behaved; there is a children’s menu, Wii gaming console, and when there are a number of kids on board, a few activities are organized by a staff member.

On a handful of special family-friendly sailings per year (often a Med itinerary in the summer), a Kids Club is offered with kids’ counselors supervising games and activities for ages 4+. Several firms charter Ponant ships, so they will determine the languages, and a number of them are in the English-speaking markets.

Passenger Decks

6 with elevators to all decks (4 on LE PONANT, the motor sailing yatch, and no elevator)

Price

$$  Moderate to Expensive

Included Features

Open bar throughout ship, stocked cabin mini-bar, and all soft drinks. New for 2019 is free WiFi in all cabin categories on all ships.

PONANT                                                                                 LE BOUGAINVILLE delivered in 2019 as the third ship in the explorer class. * Photo: Ponant

Itineraries

The ships, with such an expanding fleet, roam all over the world on one- to two-week cruises (some longer): Mediterranean and Northern Europe, Alaska and Canada, Caribbean, Central America, both coasts of South America, West Africa and Southern Africa, Madagascar, Seychelles, French Polynesia and Oceania, Hawaii,  Indonesia, East Asia and focus on Japan, Eastern Russia, Australia and New Zealand, Antarctica, the Arctic including the Northwest Passage, trans0ocean positioning voyages. A few highlights include (and it’s a moveable feast:

  • 10- and 16-night Antarctica cruises November – February
  • Iceland & Arctic Circle cruises in summer; also Northwest Passage, Eastern Canada, Great Lakes
  • 6- and 7-night cruises out of Martinique to the Grenadine Islands in the winter; also Cuba (Cuban calls suspended due to a US government ban.
  • 7-night Croatia cruises round-trip out of Venice between May and September; also Western & Eastern Mediterranean and Egypt
  • 9-night New Zealand cruises in January and February; also Australia’s eastern coast
  • 7- to 13-night Alaska cruises in June and July; including Aleutian Islands
  • 13-night Chile cruises in November and February; also Amazon and Orinoco rivers, Sea of Cortez
  • New tropical destinations are being added to include the Seychelles archipelago in the Indian Ocean, also Maldives and Madagascar, and the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific, also French Polynesia, Easter Island
  • South and Southeast Asia, Indonesia, Japan, Eastern Russia.
Why Go?

The French flare, the amazing food, the gorgeous interiors — tres chic. In 2018 Ponant signed an agreement with National Geographic Expeditions to have the latter’s experts and photographers come aboard in Australia, New Zealand and Asia/Pacific.

When to Go?

The fleet cruises in different regions of the world at the best time to visit.

Cabins

LE PONANT is an 88-meter, three-masted sailing ship with lots of wood and nautical touches such as navy blue and white bedding and fabrics in the rooms. Most cabins are on the lowest of the four passenger decks and have twin beds — two rooms have king beds — and there are a few triples. Five larger cabins are higher up on the Antigua Deck.

LE BOREAL/L’AUSTRAL/LE SOLEAL/LE LYRIAL are nearly identical sister ships with the majority of cabins measuring between 200 and 236 square feet, not including the balconies (which all but eight cabins have). Cabins are designed in stylish neutrals of champagne, smoky greys or blues, and crisp whites with pops of color, like a red border on a bed throw or pillow.

All cabins are stocked with L’Occitane toiletries, bathrobes, mini bars and iPods, and a have a great split bathroom set-up — toilet in one little room and a large shower (and/or tub) and sink in another. They also have a desk and great adjustable reading lights on either side of the bed. Many standard cabins can accommodate three people with one on a sofa bed; ideal for families are the Prestige suites, which are ostensibly two connecting standard cabins. There are four large suites on the Deck 6 near the top of the ship.

A lovely standard cabin aboard Le Lyrial. * Photo: Francois Lefebvre

A lovely standard cabin aboard Le Lyrial. * Photo: Francois Lefebvre

The new 184-passenger sisters LE LAPEROUSE (2018), LE CHAMPLAIN,  LE  BOUGAINVILLE, LE DUMONT-D’URVILLE, LE BELLOT, and  LE JACQUES CARTIER  began arriving in mid-2018 and will continue into 2020. A feature on the new ships is the Blue Eye, an underwater sightseeing lounge. They make up what is termed Ponant Explorer Class with enhanced ice-breaking capabilities.

Public Rooms

LE BOREAL/L’AUSTRAL/LE SOLEAL/LE LYRIAL have two restaurants, one main entertainment lounge, one combination lounge/bar, and a lovely outdoor bar with sea views. There is no casino. Each has a spa with a Turkish steam room, hair salon, and an excellent ocean-view gym with a row of treadmills and recumbent bikes, plus a Kinesis wall with weights, pulls and grips for weight training.

A small library area (with a Wii console nearby) and a boutique round out the public areas, unless you also count the medical clinic. The smaller LE PONANT has two restaurants, two indoor lounges and lots of deck space for sunbathing. All five of the vessels have a platform for watersports when anchored in favorable conditions.

Dining

Cuisine is a big part of the Ponant experience, and I still sometimes dream about the dark chocolate mousses we devoured on a L’AUSTRAL cruise to Croatia (I gained several solid pounds on that cruise). Each of the five ships has two restaurants, one a more formal fine-dining multi-course French gourmet venue for dinner and the other a casual buffet restaurant with outdoor and indoor seating and themed offerings. Some of the chefs are French (the pastry chef was on my last cruise) and no matter where they are from, they’ve been schooled in the French culinary tradition.

Desserts to die for. * Photo: Ponant

Desserts to die for. * Photo: Ponant

Meals incorporate fish and grilled seafood, and plenty of delicious soups and salads of all kinds. When possible, local ingredients are used, from cherries in Kotor, Croatia, to rainbow trout from Nunavut, in the Arctic. Amazing desserts on offer might comprise a hazelnut mousse cake, lemon meringue tarts and that to die-to-for chocolate mousse already mentioned; easily the best desserts I’ve ever had on a cruise ship.

A selection of cheeses from France and Italy are a staple in the buffet and of the complimentary wines generously poured, I remember an especially refreshing French rose at lunch on route to our next Croatian port of call. You can always order a bottle off the extensive menu if you want something extra special.

The more formal of two restaurants aboard Le Soleal. * Photo: Ponant

The more formal of two restaurants aboard Le Soleal. * Photo: Ponant

Activities & Entertainment

The ships are in port every day, or nearly so, but if there’s a sea day, most people enjoy simply sunbathing by the pool and soaking up the scenery. In the French way of doing things, there isn’t an abundance of scheduled activities or group events. There are theme cruises from time to time focused on gourmet food and wine, film and topics like oceanography, with experts on board giving talks and demonstrations.

Evenings, a singing duo moves around the ship before and after dinner to serenade passengers as they sip cocktails and chat about the day’s adventures and the ones that lay ahead. At the top of the tiered decks at the stern on LE BOREAL/L’AUSTRAL/LE SOLEAL/LE LYRIAL is a wonderful al-fresco bar, an ideal place to plant yourself as the ship sails off into the sunset — likewise on LE PONANT’s sun deck. After dinner from time to time, a dance performance or film screening may be scheduled in the show lounge of the four sister ships.

The new and larger 184-passenger sisters LE LAPEROUSE, LE CHAMPLAIN,  LE  BOUGAINVILLE, LE DUMONT-D’URVILLE, LE BELLOT, and  LE JACQUES CARTIER started to debut in mid-2018 and continued into 2020, and the larger 270-passenger LE COMMANDANT CHARCOT will launch polar explorations in April 2021.

Ponant passengers love to be outside on deck. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Ponant passengers love to be outside on deck. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Along the Same Lines

SeaDream is close.

Contact

Ponant Yacht Cruises & Expeditions, 420 Lexington Avenue, Suite 2838, New York, NY 10170; us.ponant.com, 1-888-400-1082.

— HMS

 

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G Adventures

For more than 30 years, G Adventures has been offering affordable adventure travel around the world including small-ship cruises (about 10-15% of their total annual business) on private yachts, catamarans and oceangoing expedition-style ships, with more recent offerings on riverboats. They also sell travel by rail, road and air. Their MO is providing small groups with authentic cultural experiences, through local guides, cuisine, and transport and uncontrived excursions. The target skews younger — 20s to 50s — than most other travel companies; though any age will be comfortable if they’ve got a young-at-heart attitude and a decent level of fitness.

A trained, local CEO, or Chief Experience Officer, guides all trips and acts as the point person to make sure things run smoothly. (On the G EXPEDITION ship, there are additional expert guides in various disciplines). The emphasis is on active exploring, using bicycles for example, and on supporting local businesses and communities (i.e. through visits to schools and charity-supported restaurants in Cambodia).

To keep rates reasonable on the various sailing trips, meals are not included, instead the skipper collects a modest amount of money from passengers who want to share a simple breakfast and lunch on board (skipper goes grocery shopping for the basics); for dinner, it’s expected that passengers will want to eat dinner in port on the islands (who wouldn’t want to!). A BYOB policy (bring your own booze) is in effect on board most of the Europe-based sailing and river cruises. The line matches same sex passengers to avoid single fares.

With 700 itineraries in more than 90 countries (including the new series of in-depth riverboat tours called National Geographic Journeys), G Adventures excels in offering trips geared to various ages, styles and interests — from families with young children to budget-minded “yolo’s” (the 18- to 39-year-old set).  Adventures is dynamic, cutting-edge, socially minded and hip (cue the great photos and video on their website), and definitely thinks outside of the typical travel company box. Quirky cruise anyone?

The line owns the G EXPEDITION ship for trips to the Arctic and Antarctica, and does full-ship charters for its many other small-ship offerings (hence ships may vary from year to year, and listings below reflect a portion of their current fleet). Consult their 150-page encyclopedia!

G Adventures

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

XAVIER III (built 1996, refurbished 2004; 16 passengers) – Galapagos

MONSERRAT (built 2005, refurbished 2016; 20 passengers) – Galapagos

QUEEN OF THE GALAPAGOS (built 2007; 16 passengers) – Galapagos

YOLITA (built 2007, refurbished 2016; 16 passengers) – Galapagos

ESTRELLA DEL MAR (built 1990, refurbished 2014; 16 passengers) – Galapagos

REINA SILVIA VOYAGER  (built 2020; 16 passengers) – Galapagos

EDEN  (built 2000, refurbished 2012; 16 passengers) – Galapagos

G EXPEDITION (built 1972, refurbished 2008; 134 passengers) – Arctic/Antarctica, designed to Ice Class 1B specifications

DANIELE (built 2015; 22 passengers) – Burgundy, France

TOUM TIOU II (built 2008; 28 passengers) – Mekong

VARUNA (built 2006; 24 passengers) — Ganges

AMATISTA (built 1994; 30 passengers) – Amazon

SAILING VESSELS in Europe, the Caribbean and Asia may change from year to year, but those chartered generally carry about 8 to 16 passengers.

A catamaran cruise in the waters of Thailand. * Photo: © G Adventures, Inc.

A catamaran cruise in the waters of Thailand. * Photo: © G Adventures, Inc.

Passenger Profile

Adventurous couples, singles, and families of all ages (though especially the under 40 set) mostly from North America, and a handful from the UK, Europe and other places. The ocean expedition cruises tend to attract largely couples, average age mid-50s, while the sailing tours draw mostly 30s singles.

Passenger Decks

2-3; no elevators.

Price

$ to $$, Moderate to Expensive

Included Features

Generally meals are included across the board except on the small sailing yachts. For Galapagos and South America coastal cruises, snorkeling gear is part of the package, while bicycles are carried on French rivers and on the Mekong. On some itineraries guided shore excursions are also included.

Passengers on an excursion in the Galapagos. * Photo: © G Adventures, Inc.

Passengers on an excursion in the Galapagos. * Photo: © G Adventures, Inc.

Itineraries
  • Galapagos: There are mostly 7, 10 and up to 17-day cruises either round-trip from Baltra or San Cristobal islands, packaged with a 1- or 2-night hotel stay in mainland Quito, Ecuador with the longest more elaborate stays in Ecuador. Itineraries focus mostly on the Central (including Santa Cruz Santiago), Western (Isabela and Fernandina) and Southern (Floreana and Espanola) island groups, to get up close and personal with the amazing wildlife and diverse landscape. (Note: airfare between Quito and the islands is not included in the rates as it often is with other lines).
G Adventures

Estrella Del Mar in the Galapagos. * Photo- © G Adventures, Inc.

  • Europe Rivers: 6-night cruises round-trip from Dijon through France’s Burgundy region visit small villages and wineries, with excursions on foot and by bicycle.
  • India Rivers: 15-night cruises from Patna to Kolkata (Calcutta) on the Ganges River visit ancient temples, ornate palaces and sixth-century rock carvings. South, east and north coast catamaran sailing in Sri Lanka.
  • Southeast Asia Rivers: 7-night cruises (plus 2 hotel nights) on classic-style riverboats between Ho Chi Minh City and Siem Reap go to wet and floating markets, temples (including a sunrise visit to the legendary Angkor Wat on the longer itins), stilt villages, and Vietnam war sites (such as the Cu Chi tunnels and Reunification Palace, associated with the Fall of Saigon in 1975).
  • Turkey & Croatia: 9-night super casual catamaran cruises travel between Split and Dubrovnik, Croatia, and between Bodrum and Fethiye, Turkey.
  • Greek Isles: 7-night super casual yacht cruises sail between Santorini and Mykonos with stops at untouristy offbeat islands in the Cyclades; maybe including Folegandros, Sifnos, Ios, Antiparos, Paros and/or Naxos.
  • Cuba: 6-night super casual catamaran cruises sail round-trip out of Havana and visit points on the Canarreos Archipelago with a focus on snorkeling, swimming and beach-bumming.
  • British Virgin Islands: 6-night catamaran cruises are round-trip from Tortola and hit all the best offbeat swimming, snorkeling and beach sites.
  • Maldives: 6-night cruises aboard a traditional dhoni (a dhow-like fishing boat) spend a week snorkeling and diving in the gorgeous waters of the Maldives islands, and its lagoons and atolls.
  • Thailand: Choose from 6 nighters round-trip from Phuket and 3-night cruises between Phuket and Koh Phi Phi. Indonesia Interisland catamaran cruising from Bali to nearby islands and Lombok.
Amarista on the Amazon. * Photo: © G Adventures, Inc.

Amarista on the Amazon. * Photo: © G Adventures, Inc.

  • Amazon River: 7-night cruises on the Amazon depart from Iquitos, Peru; with optional pre- or post land trips to Machu Picchu.
  • Antarctica: 10- to 22-night cruises round-trip from Ushuaia, Argentina visit points throughout the South Shetland Islands and Antarctica Peninsula. Longest cruises add the Falklands and South Georgia..
  • Arctic/Norwegian Fjords: 10- to 14-night cruises between Reykjavik, Iceland, and Longyearbyen, Norway, visit ports along the coasts of Norway, Greenland, Iceland, and Svalbard.
  • South America: 4- to 5-week-long cruises along the west coast of South America (Chile, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia) are offered as the G EXPEDITION repositions between Antarctica and the Arctic region, with excursions to fjords, glaciers, national parks and rain forests, plus a 3-day overland trip to Machu Picchu.
No shortage of South Georgia Penguins in the Antarctica. * Photo: © G Adventures, Inc.

No shortage of South Georgia Penguins in the Antarctica. * Photo: © G Adventures, Inc.

When to Go?

Galapagos is year-round, Antarctica late October through mid-March; Arctic late May through mid-September, SE Asia July-April, Maldives year-round, Thailand October-April, and Europe April-October.

Cabins

G EXPEDITION (Polar) is G Adventures’ owned ship for polar travel; it has five different cabin categories that range in size and layout. All have private bathrooms with showers, and a porthole or window. The two lowest categories are quads and triples with upper and lower bunk beds. All other categories have two lower beds, except for four larger suites that have a queen bed.

QUEEN OF GALAPAGOS (Galapagos) the most high-end of the company’s five Galapagos ships, has 9 luxury cabins all with windows, private bathroom and air conditioning, TV and DVD players — 7 have queen or twin beds, and 1 is a suite with a sitting area.

A light-filled twin cabin on the Galapagos Queen. * Photo: © G Adventures, Inc.

A light-filled twin cabin on the Galapagos Queen. * Photo: © G Adventures, Inc.

YOLITA’s (Galapagos) 8 cabins have queen or twin beds, large windows, and TVs with DVD players. All have private bathrooms and air conditioning.

XAVIER III’s (Galapagos) 8 cabins are all double-occupancy with twin beds; 4 on the upper deck cabins with windows, and 4 on the deck below with portholes. All come with private bathrooms and air conditioning.

A twin cabin on Xavier III. * Photo: © G Adventures, Inc.

A twin cabin on Xavier III. * Photo: © G Adventures, Inc.

MONSERRAT’s (Galapagos) 10 cabins comprise 6 double-occupancy upper deck cabins with windows and 4 on the deck below with portholes. All are equipped with private bathrooms and air conditioning.

EDEN (Galapagos) takes 16 passengers and a two wraparound decks to easily access all directions. 4 cabins are twin lowers, a double bed cabin, and  3 twin-share bunk cabins, all with private facilities and A/C.

ESTRELLA DEL MAR (Galapagos) has 8 double-occupancy cabins with bunk beds, 4 on the upper deck with windows and 4 on the deck below with portholes. All have private bathrooms and air conditioning.

DANIELE (France) is a canal barge with 12 lower deck cabins all with windows and private bathrooms, TV, radio, and air-conditioning.

TOUM TIOU II (Mekong) has 6 upper deck cabins and 8 lower deck cabins, all with windows and en-suite bathrooms.

AMATISTA (Amazon) has 15 cabins — 7 upper deck and 8 lower deck, all with windows and private bathrooms.

VARUNA (Ganges) has 12 air-conditioned cabins, all with en suite bathrooms.

CATAMARANS/SAILING YACHTS (Cuba, BVIs, Greece, Croatia, Thailand, Maldives), the vessels may vary from year to year, but generally have 4 to 8 double cabins often (but not always) with private bathrooms.

Dining room on Galapagos Queen. * Photo: © G Adventures, Inc.

Dining room on Galapagos Queen. * Photo: © G Adventures, Inc.

Public Rooms & Dining

All Galapagos vessels and the polar ship G EXPEDITION have an indoor observation lounge for talks by the naturalists, plus a bar, small library, outdoor observation deck with chairs for relaxing, and indoor dining area for casual and relaxed meals. The menus where possible incorporate local ingredients, such as fish.

TOUM TIOU II (Mekong River) has a main lounge with a large-screen TV for watching a limited selection of DVDs, a library, bar, and open-air dining area and indoor/outdoor lounges. DANIELE (France) has a lounge with bar, dining area, sun deck with loungers and parasols, and a hot tub.

The small catamarans and yachts in the Caribbean, Europe, Thailand and the Maldives, and the riverboat on the Amazon, all have a combination lounge and dining area indoors, plus outdoor seating for sunbathing and hanging out.

Some vessels have reliable Wi-Fi, including G EXPEDITION, but on many, connectivity is spotty.

Amatista on Amazon. * Photo: © G Adventures, Inc.

Amatista on Amazon. * Photo: © G Adventures, Inc.

Activities & Entertainment

In general, the entertainment is the destination and interaction with fellow passengers, sharing conversation and drinks on deck. Activities happen in port or in the water while snorkeling, diving, kayaking or zipping around in zodiacs or small skiffs. The Galapagos boats carry 2 zodiacs for expeditions and snorkeling equipment for passengers’ use (wet suits are free of charge on QUEEN OF GALAPAGOS and YOLITA only). DANIELE (France) has a hot tub, and it and the Mekong riverboat carry a handful of bicycles.

Along the Same Lines

QuarkOne Ocean, Poseidon Adventures in the polar regions.

Contact

G Adventures, 19 Charlotte Street, Toronto, Ontario, M5V 2H5; 416-260-0999. US office: 179 South Street, 1st floor, Boston, MA 0211, 877 390 9050. Additionally in USA & Canada 1-888-8000-4100; UK 0344 272 2060; Australia 1300 853 325; New Zealand 0800 333 415. Consult the website for additional international telephone numbers.

— HMS

 

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UnCruise Adventures

UnCruise Adventures

Seattle-based UnCruise operates a fleet of nine expedition vessels taking from 22 to 90 passengers for those seeking adventure cruises in North America’s coastal, island and inland waters from Alaska south to Mexico’s Sea of Cortés, out amongst Hawaiian Islands, Costa Rica and Panama, and in the Galapagos Archipelago off Ecuador.

The American firm, with origins dating back to 1996, has the largest selection of small ship cruises in Alaska, varied enough for return exploratory voyages. UnCruise Adventures is a shared, unrushed experience. For those who like off-season travel, some Alaska itineraries begin in April as the state’s wildlife is waking up, and the spring months are generally drier than later on.

Ships, Years Delivered & Passengers

WILDERNESS ADVENTURER (b. 1984 & 60 passengers); WILDERNESS DISCOVERER (b. 1992 & 76 p); WILDERNESS EXPLORER (b. 1976 & 74 p); SAFARI ENDEAVOUR (b. 1983 & 84 p); SAFARI EXPLORER (b. 1988 & 36 p); SAFARI QUEST (b. 1992 & 22 p) and SAFARI VOYAGER (b. 1982/renovated 2015 & 64 p).

Replica Coastal Steamer: S.S. LEGACY (b. 1983 & 90 p).

For the LA PINTA (b.   & 48 pax), see Galapagos below. The fleet comparison chart  on the website is useful for what features one ship has that another may not such as single cabins and triples.

Safari Quest takes just 22 passengers.* Photo: Un-Cruise Adventures.

Safari Quest takes just 22 passengers.* Photo: Un-Cruise Adventures.

Passenger Profile

A varied lot spanning the ages who come for itineraries that combine popular and off-beat destinations. Cruises are as informal as they come, and the emphasis is outdoor activities and exploring, with activities designed for children. The Columbia-Snake cruises had always attracted generally older passengers for its specific slants on history, cultural traditions and scenery, though now with a big focus on active adventure, the passengers ages should go down. As all but one of these ships are American-flagged, and the crews hail from the US of A. The SAFARI VOYAGER is registered in St.Kitts.

Passenger Decks

3 or 4 and no elevators except for the S.S. LEGACY, connecting the three public decks.

Price
$$ – $$$

Weeklong cruises are typically upwards of $3,200 per person, and include shore excursions, booze and other perks. Some 7-night itineraries command twice that, while early spring dates (14 nights) may begin below $5,000. Peruse the lot to find the price you can afford.

Included Features

Shore excursions; use of the skiffs, kayaks and paddle boards; and non-alcoholic beverages. Spirits, wines and microbrews and a complimentary massage are included on all ships (though no massages on Safari Quest or SS Legacy).

Itineraries

Most cruises last 7 nights, and some Alaska cruises may be combined to create 14-night trips. Some cruises have special themes: marine biology, photography, storytellers, ornithology, craft beer, nostalgic music, wine, Alaska Insiders and a wellness cruise. Here’s the link to UnCruise’s theme offerings. 

The numerous cruising regions are:

Alaska

The 49th state is the line’s prime summer focus involving six ships and 13 different itineraries of 7 nights plus one 8-nighter April to September, in Southeast Alaska’s Inside Passage embarking in Juneau, Ketchikan, Petersburg, and Sitka. Beginning and end of season one-way repositioning 14-night voyages between Seattle and Juneau operate in April, August and September.

The emphasis is on avoiding the big cruise ship ports and offering outdoor boating activities in scenic coves and fjords, sea life watching, and Native American cultural life. Glacier Bay is on some itineraries. Some expeditions offer wet suit immersions.

UnCruise Adventures

Kayaking is a big part of the UnCruise ethos. * Photo: Judi Cohen

Land tours of 4- and 5-night may be added to include Denali National Park, Alaska Railroad, Kenai Fjords National Park, Anchorage, Seward, and Girdwood, a small mountain town near the Chugach Mountains. Activities featured are guided hikes, dogsled rides, wildlife viewing, mountain biking, river floats, and scenic train rides. Included features are hotels, meals, transfers between the vessel, hotels and airports, and baggage handling. Check out the land operator at Alaska Alpine Adventures.

Related: UnCruise in Alaska … by Judi Cohen.

Un-Cruise Adventures often spends a whole day in Glacier Bay seeing ice and animals close up.

Un-Cruise Adventures often spends a whole day in Glacier Bay seeing ice and animals close up. * Photo: Ted Scull

Columbia & Snake – OR & WA

From Portland covering almost one thousand round-trip miles along the Columbia and Snake Rivers as far inland as Idaho’s Hells Canyon. The 7-night Rivers of Adventure, running September-October, travel between Portland, OR and Clarkston, and includes an expedition team, kayaking, hiking on the Rowena Plateau, whitewater rafting on the Deschutes River and biking along the Columbia Gorge. Paddle boards and skiffs have been added to the activities.

The 7-night Rivers of Wine and Culinary cruises are offered in November 2018 and  September-November 2019 roundtrip from Portland aboard the 90-passenger S.S. LEGACY and showcasing famed Oregon and Washington State vineyards and produce.

Related: Rivers of Adventure on the Columbia & Snake Rivers  …  by John Roberts

The headwaters of Snake River navigation burrows deep into Idaho's Hells Canyon.

The headwaters of Snake River navigation burrows deep into Idaho’s Hells Canyon. * Photo: Ted Scull

Mexico’s Sea of Cortés

7-night cruises aboard the 84-passenger SAFARI ENDEAVOUR December 2019 to April 2020 and December 2020 to April 2021 leave from San José del Cabo to islands in the Sea of Cortés and coastal towns, along with hikes for viewing wildlife and landscapes, kayaking and snorkeling, and whale watching (January-March) via overland transfer to Magdalena Bay on the Pacific Coast.

Swim alongside sea lions and whale sharks in Bahia de la Paz dubbed the “aquarium of the world.” Take a mule ride into the arroyo with local rancheros. Stargazing and bioluminescence in the water at night.

Hawaiian Islands

From Hawaii (Big Island) or Moloka’i and including Maui and Lana’i. 7-night weekly departures July-August and November December 2019 and year-round in 2020 and 2021 aboard the 36-passenger SAFARI EXPLORER, for water sport activities in the world’s largest marine sanctuary, beach relaxation, searching for Great Pacific manta rays and humpback whales, viewing astounding landscapes and seascapes and taking in cultural activities.

Pacific Northwest – San Juan Islands, Puget Sound and Olympic National Park

Roundtrip from Seattle:

7 nights to the Olympic Peninsula’s mountain wilderness and San Juan Islands for attractive port towns, looking for sea life (seals, sea lions, orcas, whales), and enjoying waterborne activities (hiking, birding, kayaking, paddle boarding). Departures: 22-passenger SAFARI QUEST April-May and September-November 2019 & 2020.

7 nights to Victoria on Vancouver Island, the San Juan and Gulf Islands, exploring deep incisive inlets on the B.C. mainland, and wildlife watching. Departures: 22-passenger SAFARI QUEST April and September to November.

Friday Harbor in Washington's San Juan Islands is a favorite cruise stop when ships leave Seattle.

Friday Harbor in Washington’s San Juan Islands is a favorite cruise stop when Un-Cruise ships leave Seattle. * Photo: Ted Scull

Galapagos

7-night Galapagos cruise in the 48-passenger LA PINTA. Departures April-August & October 2012 & 2020. Optional add-ons: pre-cruise 4-night Amazon rainforest cruise in Ecuador or post-cruise 6-night Machu Picchu, Sacred Valley, Cusco & Guayaquil land extension.

Safari Voyage. * Photo: Un-Cruise Adventures

Safari Voyager. * Photo: Un-Cruise Adventures

Costa Rica  & Panama Canal

7 and 10 nights Costa Rica’s Pacific coast, Panama with a canal transit and Colombia (one itinerary) and visits to islands and national wildlife parks, hiking, kayaking, paddle boards, skiffs, and snorkeling. Departures: 64-passenger SAFARI VOYAGER.  November-March.

Why Go?

The majestic nature of Alaska, the Columbia-Snake rivers, and the Hawaiian Islands are best seen from the decks of a small ship; the varieties of wildlife living in Alaska, Sea of Cortés, Galapagos and Central America; and the cultural connections in all the regions shared close up with less than 100 others (and often below 50) rather than amongst multiple thousands in the mega-ship ports.

When to Go?

The cruises are scheduled for the best weather times of the year, and the UnCruise brochure and website outline with easily understood bar charts the prime months for whale watching or enjoying the wild flowers in Mexico, and in Alaska, wildlife sightings and Northern Lights, plus the optimum driest and sunniest periods. For instance, in Alaska, spring means lots of newly-born animals, migrating birds and whales, lots of snow on the mountains, waterfalls at their peak with runoff, and the best chance to see the Aurora Borealis (other than in winter).

Cabins

The Wilderness prefix vessels have all outside, windowed and mostly small cabins with some double, but mostly queen and twin beds located on two or three decks, TV/DVD players, and iPod docking stations. The Safari-named offer queen, twin or king-size beds, TV/DVD players and iPod docking stations. Larger cabins have sitting areas and a few cabins come with French doors and step-out balconies.

The ENDEAVOUR adds a refrigerator to these cabins. The S.S. LEGACY has all outside cabins with view windows; queen, double or twin beds; TV/DVD players and iPod docking stations. The top two categories add refrigerators, and the 300 sq. ft. Owner’s Suite goes all the way with a separate bedroom and a large lounge with wet bar and media center for entertaining. it’s a wow for a small ship.

Captain-grade cabin on the Safari Quest. * Photo: Un-Cruise Adventures.

Captain-grade cabin on the Safari Quest. * Photo: Un-Cruise Adventures.

Public Rooms

The Wilderness- and Safari-prefixed ships have one forward lounge and a top deck sun lounge or covered area and a hot tub or sauna. S.S. LEGACY adds a second aft-facing bar-lounge.

Safari Voyager's Bar. * Photo: Un-Cruise Adventures.

Safari Voyager’s Bar. * Photo: Un-Cruise Adventures.

Dining

All ships have a single open seating, with a window of time at breakfast and set times for the other meals. The food will be well prepared and reflect the cruising region. Lunches tend to be lighter fare—soups, salads and sandwiches. Occasional barbecues are set up on deck in good weather. Spirits, wine and microbrews are now complimentary at lunch and dinner aboard the entire fleet.

Klondike Dining Saloon. * Photo: Ted Scull

S.S. Legacy – Klondike Dining Saloon and aft lounge and embarkation access through the swinging doors. * Photo: Ted Scull

Activities & Entertainment

All ships carry expedition teams who give (often illustrated) talks, some based on what the bow camera catches and the underwater hydrophone sees and hears. They organize adventures ashore, guided shore walks and rigorous hikes and explain use of the available craft such as kayaks, inflatable skiffs, and paddle boards.

The fleet has stern boarding platforms (now including S.S. LEGACY) with its Sea Dragon landing), and snorkeling is offered in short sessions, even in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, using a supplied wet suit. Note: The line’s website features a comprehensive fleet amenities chart showing what’s available on every vessel.

There are a number of theme cruises including photography, marine biology, ornithology and wellness where experts are on board to offer talks and guidance (see UnCruise’s website). All vessels also have fitness equipment, TV and DVD players in the lounge, and small book libraries.

Hiking in Baja California's Sea of Cortes. * Photo: Un-Cruise Adventures

Hiking in Baja California’s Sea of Cortes. * Photo: Un-Cruise Adventures

Special Notes

The UnCruise Adventures’ 148-page brochure is amazingly well-detailed in all aspects of their expedition business.

For adventure trips, UnCruise has a wide variety of price points and a fleet that includes 22- and 36-berth yachts, 60- to 84-berth small coastal-style ships, and a remarkably winsome Victorian atmosphere aboard the one-of-a-kind S.S. LEGACY. Private charters are available for all ships.

Along the Same Lines

Alaskan Dream Cruises, Lindblad Expeditions.

Related: Small-Ship Cruising with Alaskan Dream Cruises … by Lynn & Cele Seldon

Contact

UnCruise Adventures, 3826 18th Ave W, Seattle, WA 98119; US & Canada 888-862-8881; International (00) 800 12639888.

— TWS

 

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